An Idaho public library has decided to permanently remove two sex education books from its shelves after complaints from religious activists, the Idaho Statesman reported last week.
The library board brought the issue to a vote after the director of a Religious Right group, Youth 4 Revolution, requested the books' removal.
The New Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex will be taken off the shelves (the books were already placed higher on the shelves and out of the way of children) and only accessible upon request. Children under the age of 18 will need parental approval to check out the books.
The removal of these books has caused quite the debate among library board members and the community over the years. The board has voted on the issue four times in the past two years, initially rejecting the censorship request unanimously in 2006. The mayor appointed three new board members since then, and all voted in favor of removal.
At a previous board meeting in March, when the board made a temporary vote on the issue, 20 people signed up to speak for the removal, and 16 signed up to support keeping the books, reported the Idaho Press-Tribune.
Those who opposed removal argued that removing the books amounted to censorship and went against the purpose of a public library.
Our courts have held that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information and the right to know. Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumers Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748 (1976). Stripping a book from a community's public library is taking away this right.
Even in school libraries, the U.S. Supreme Court has sided against removal of library books once they are already on the shelf. School board members cannot vote to remove a book simply because it goes against their religious beliefs or they do not like the ideas displayed in the book. Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 868 (1982)(plurality).
Religious Right activists are gleeful about the Nampa library board's action.
On the Youth 4 Revolution web site, a statement says, "This is a huge victory for the community of Nampa, and for families across the state of Idaho -- and a reminder to Christians that when we are willing to take a stand for what is right-- we can have Victory, through the power of God and to His glory!"
But that statement raises important church-state issues. Are public libraries supposed to provide only books that meet the narrow criteria of fundamentalist Christians? I don't think so.
Librarians carefully select books to add to the community's collection. Just because down the road someone finds a book offensive or "inappropriate" does not mean the book has no value.
Parents can shield their children from whatever ideas and images they like. But that's a responsibility of the parent, not the public library.
If public libraries start clearing their shelves based on requests from religious activist groups, it makes me wonder what would even be left on the shelves besides the Bible.