Readers will doubtless suppose that the following account is a fiction, a fabrication. No one, the reader will think, can be as blockheaded as the administrators in this school district must be. Yet it is true. This is not a fabrication. It pains us to post it because we believe that too often teachers and administrators are unfairly criticized, but there are some in the employ of our communities who are not criticized enough, and apparently the supervisors in this district are among them.
On December 7th an announcement was made in a nearby elementary school (which, for reasons which will be explained later, will remain unnamed) to the effect that students will not be able to access books on hunting (!), Christmas, or Christianity from the school library. These books, some 35 to 40 titles, were going to be removed from the shelves.
One child at the school told her mother about the announcement, and the mother decided to check it out for herself. She called the elementary supervisor who explained to her that the books needed to be reviewed because they had religious content, and the district didn't want books in the library which were too evangelical. Besides, the supervisor went on, there was an imbalance between books partial to Christianity and those of other religions.
The mother asked which titles would be pulled and was refused an answer. She indicated that she would like to go to the school to find out, and was told not to do that. She went anyway, obtained a visitor's pass, and found the books piled on a table in the library. She began copying the titles, and was confronted by the building principal who asked her to desist and leave the building. The banned books included the "Touched By an Angel" books as well as Lisa Biemer's "Let's Roll", written in honor of her husband who died a hero on 9/11. No books involving mention of any religion other than Christianity were in the stack.
In the course of her discussion with the principal she was told that there can be no religious symbols in the school and that even the cross she wore on her necklace would not be permitted on a faculty member. Evidently, there was a fear that youngsters might be unduly influenced by a respected teacher's choice in jewelry to favor what that teacher implicitly favors, and that would be somehow unconstitutional. This suggests that these administrators would also object if teachers were overtly instructing their children not to hit or make fun of others, and not to cheat, lie, steal, exclude others from games, or be intolerant of their classmates because these behaviors are morally wrong. Surely the inculcation of moral values derived from a teacher's religious convictions is even more unacceptable to the district than wearing a piece of jewelry which may or may not express a teacher's endorsement of some vague religious belief. It would be interesting to discover how often teachers are admonished in this district for explicitly imposing their morality upon their students.
The mother was told by the principle that the hunting books were being pulled because a young boy might learn from them how to kill animals with a gun and then use that information to shoot people. This statement all by itself should be enough to promote this principle to dunderhead first class except that would seem too much like a Boy Scout award and Boy Scout literature is certainly next to be committed to the flames in this district.
A day or so later the superintendent called the mother's home and informed her husband that the books would be available to students but would not be displayed. Clever. Third through fifth graders would be able to read the books but only if they knew the secret procedure for accessing them. This reveals what the superintendent thinks of Christianity. He wishes to treat it like stores treat pornography.
The couple then called school board members to complain of the censorship and the religious discrimination in the district in which they pay taxes. The board members, being board members, were somewhat non-committal, reluctant to step on the administrative prerogatives of their staff. Even so, by Thursday evening the superintendent had called back to tell them that the books were going to be reshelved the next day and that he thought they should now halt their campaign. He was obviously concerned that the couple was on the verge of taking this story to the newspapers and local talk radio, and the thought of that kind of publicity evidently softened the district's stance.
Since the couple now had a promise from the superintendent that the books would not be removed, they decided it would be improper to go through with making their concerns public, and so Viewpoint is not divulging which district or district personnel were involved either. However, the only reason that the district relented was because they had been caught. If the announcement hadn't been made to the children last Tuesday, or if this mother/taxpayer had not decided that she was going to check the matter out for herself, the authorities would have removed the books and no one would have been the wiser. So, if the district is later found to have gone back on its word then such courtesies as the couple (and Viewpoint) are presently extending them will be set aside.
This whole episode raises the question of how many other schools in the district, or indeed in the state, have quietly purged their collections of any books which present any mention of Christianity (or hunting!). Is there a surreptitious effort among public school personnel in our local school districts to censor religious reading material? This is a question to which an answer would be easy to find simply by e-mailing or calling your school's librarian. If anyone does learn of other instances of this we invite you to let us know about it through our Feedback Forum.