Library censorship: here we go again

The last time the Loudoun Republican Party tried to save our innocent children from being corrupted by the evils lurking in our local libraries, it cost the county $100,000 defending a lawsuit that it inevitably lost and made us the laughingstock of the country.

But that bit of political theatrics shored up the right-wing wacko religious zealot credentials of one Dick Black, then serving on the Library Board, thereby catapulting him to a rewarding political career in Richmond as a state legislator, where he became the darling of religious wackos everywhere by handing out plastic fetuses to his fellow legislators and decrying the notion of ever prosecuting a husband for rape against his wife since, as he explained on the floor of our great state legislature, if she’s “wearing a nightie” in bed she is asking for it. But we digress.

This lesson in practical politics was not lost on other local aspiring Republican politicians, who are well aware — since the Republicans almost never deign to allow the people to select their candidates in primaries —  that kowtowing to the powerful wacko religious right faction in the party apparatus is a key to career advancement.

So here we go again!

Supervisors Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) recently began thumping the same old drum again, ominously warning that our innocent children are in danger of being corrupted by checking out “age inappropriate” DVDs and games from the library — and proposing that the library staff needs to prevent children under 18 from having access to such library materials.

When the county’s library director quite sensibly pointed out that it’s up to parents, not the library, to decide what their children can and cannot read or view, Buona indignantly replied that “It’s like walking into the 7-11 and you’re 16 and buying a six pack of beer and the clerk sells it to you because mom and dad didn’t say you couldn’t have it.”

Well, not exactly. Though we do have to give Mr. Buona credit for a very viable entry in the Ken Reid Inane Analogy Competition.

For one thing, it is against the law for a 7-11 to sell a 16-year old beer (whether or not their parents approve). Any suggested age ranges on movies or video games, however, are voluntary industry standards that have no force of law and indeed — as the American Library Association has pointed out in their Library Bill of Rights — would clearly violate the Constitution were library staff to try to enforce them.

There is of course something rather quaint in this day and age — when parents are grappling with the genuinely fraught problems of preventing their children from accessing really inappropriate material 24 hours a day in total privacy on their cellphones, computers, and iPads — for our earnest elected representatives to be so concerned about what the young people might be bringing home from the public library. While insisting they are opposed to “censorship,” the policy Buona et al. are proposing is exactly that, would violate the ALA’s code of ethics, and would also plainly violate the Constitution’s protections of freedom of speech.

And PS: It would make Loudoun County once again look like a bunch of yahoos and rubes, and the laughingstock of the country.

It is also of course completely typical of this theatrical political drum-thumping that our esteemed supervisors did not even bother to ask what other jurisdictions do or what the library professionals believe about it before shooting their mouths off. Here is the ALA’s position statement, which you can find on their website along with a good discussion of the First Amendment case law, which without a doubt makes clear that any library policy restricting access to library materials would be unconstitutional censorship:

Parents—and only parents—have the right and responsibility to restrict access of their children—and only their children—to library resources. Parents who do not want their children to have access to certain library services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children. Librarians and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child.

It is also of course typical of this species of pandering to the religious right that politicians who under other circumstances are always decrying the “nanny state” and government infringement on liberty suddenly think it’s just fine for government to butt into our lives and for a minority of parents to decide for everyone else’s children what they may or may not read or see.

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