Civil Rights Groups Denounce ‘Unlawful’ Book-Banning Effort by Texas GOP

“We will not stand by and watch politicians play games with the education and well-being of our children.”

By Brett Wilkins.  Published 11-23-2021 by Common Dreams.

Two prominent national civil rights groups on Tuesday blasted efforts by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state Rep. Matt Krause—both Republicans—to compel school districts to censor hundreds of books, including many popular LGBTQ+, reproductive rights, and racial justice titles, following the passage of laws prohibiting the teaching of the racist history of the United States and banning transgender athletes from interscholastic athletics.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. issued a statement condemning “Texas politicians’ efforts to force schools to begin pulling books from their classrooms and libraries shelves under the guise of state law.”

Last month, Krause (R-93) sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency demanding disclosure of which schools in the state have any of the approximately 850 books listed on a spreadsheet compiled in connection with a state law banning the teaching of critical race theory, legislation that one Dallas-Fort Worth-area school administrator cited when instructing teachers to counter Holocaust education with “opposing” views.

As NPR reports:

Books on Krause’s list include titles such as The Great American Whatever, a young adult novel by Tim Federle, and Pink is a Girl Color... and Other Silly Things People Say, a children’s picture book by Stacy and Erik Drageset. Nonfiction books are also on the list, from How Prevalent Is Racism in Society?, by Peggy J. Parks, to the Amnesty International title We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures.

At least 11 of the books focus on the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, whose main characters include a doctor who performs abortions, is also on the list. Many of the books discuss race. The list includes An African American and Latinx History of the United States, a well-reviewed title by University of Florida historian Paul Ortiz that seeks to add nuance and accuracy to long-accepted histories of America. The list also includes Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot.

According to Lambda Legal, Krause—who chairs the state House’s General Investigations Committee—asked Texas school district “to identify other books and materials that address human sexuality, HIV, AIDS, and any material that ‘might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

Following Krause’s letter, Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education to “immediately develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

“These letters are part of a continuing extremist campaign to intimidate educators into selective self-censorship on issues critical to young people’s learning and development,” the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law said in a statement.

David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that “rogue politicians must be called in check and right now, Rep. Krause is well outside the bounds of our Constitution.”

“For decades, our courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court—have held that the First Amendment protects the right to information and ideas and library books are at the core of this protection,” Hinojosa continued. “We are not going to stand idly by as Krause, Gov. Abbott, or anybody else cast these veiled threats to force schools to begin pulling important books on racism, sexism, [and] genderism, among other topics, solely because they disagree with those ideas.”

Lambda Legal staff attorney Avatara Smith-Carrington said in a statement that “Gov. Abbott’s and Rep. Krause’s political stunts are part of a larger effort, nationwide, to remove information and materials from public schools that politicians disfavor. Any such efforts raise serious First Amendment concerns, and is, in many ways, an attack on our informed democracy.”

“Krause’s investigation and Gov. Abbott’s letters labeling coming-of-age stories as pornography simply because they involve LGBTQ people are attempts to create educational environments rife with censorship of ideas and topics that students deserve to have access to,” Smith-Carrington continued. “Students need materials and information created with them in mind, in which they can see their own identities and experiences reflected.”

“We will not stand by and watch politicians play games with the education and well-being of our children,” they added.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
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