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You Can’t Hide Families Behind The Desk: How Utah School Officials Are Violating The First Amendment In Library Book Case

Joshua Block,
Senior Staff Attorney,
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November 13, 2012

The ACLU LGBT Project and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit earlier today challenging a decision by Davis School District in Davis County, Utah, to remove a children’s picture book about a family with two moms from all elementary school libraries in the district. The book, called In Our Mothers’ House, was written by Patricia Polacco, an acclaimed author of award-winning children’s literature. The School Library Journal gave In Our Mothers’ House a rave review and recommends the book for children in grades 1 to 4. The school district decided to remove the book from the library shelves and hide it behind the librarians’ desks in response to complaints from some parents that the book “normalizes a lifestyle that we don’t agree with.” The school district has claimed that having a book about a family with same-sex parents on the library shelves would also violate Utah’s sex-education laws because it would amount to “advocacy of homosexuality.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tina Weber, a mother with two children in one of the elementary schools where In Our Mothers’ House was taken off the shelves. Tina respects the rights of all parents to place limits on what their own children can read, but she does not think that any parent should be able to dictate what library materials are available for other people’s children. As Tina explained in a press release today, “Our job as parents is to make sure we teach our children about our values. We can do that without imposing our personal views on the rest of the school community.”

The First Amendment prohibits schools from removing books from the school library shelves because school officials or their constituents disagree with the ideas contained in the book. Removing library books because they “normalize a lifestyle that parents don’t agree with” or contain positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists violates the First Amendment rights of all students to access ideas in a school library on a viewpoint-neutral basis.

The school has argued that it can avoid the requirements of the First Amendment by allowing students to check out the book on an individualized basis with written parental permission. But putting a library book behind the desk can be just as harmful as removing it entirely. Not only does the restriction make it more difficult for students to access the book, but it also stigmatizes the book as something dirty or shameful.

Children come from all types of families, and the school libraries should serve the entire school community. The fact of the matter is that children with same-sex parents attend schools across the country – including in Davis School District. Removing books from the shelves won’t change that. Regardless of the race, sex or marital status of a child’s parents, they are part of the school community, and their families should not be hidden away as something shameful.

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