Northern Justice Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed a constitutional lawsuit against the Mat-Su Borough School District for putting 56 books from school libraries into a review committee to determine suitability for different grade levels.
The 56 books, out of school collections that have over 600,000 titles, had been removed after being flagged by members of the community as deserving of review by the district’s Library Committee, which is now in the process of reviewing the books.
Two out of 600,000 books in the district school libraries were removed by the superintendent, using his own judgment about the books’ liability they carried for being pornographic in nature.
The lawsuit, filed Friday, says that because the books are removed, the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of students in the Mat-Su School District are being violated.
The suit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs, including six parents of minor children and two current district students over the age of 18, who claim that the review of the books violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to free speech, press, and political expression.
The press release from Northern Justice Project and ACLU makes no mention of the fact that the books have not been removed permanently, but that a committee is responding to parent and community concerns by taking those concerns seriously and reviewing the books, with an eye toward possibly classifying them for different ages.
For example, several of the books are on the theme of rape, and some of the books are about the rape of children, such as Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
At least one of the books that were removed for review have never been checked out of the library — at least not in the past decade, according to computer records.
“The removed books also include books with protagonists of color or LGBTQ+ protagonists and non-fiction reference materials discussing adolescent health and development,” the litigants said in their press release.
Plaintiffs in this case are asking the court to reinstate all 56 removed books to school libraries, and asking the court to rule that the committee review process is unconstitutional.
In other words, there can be no standards of decency set for school library materials, according to the litigants. Playboy magazine, adult books of a sexual nature, and graphic novel depicting rape and incest — all would be allowed if Northern Justice Project and the ACLU were in charge of schools.
The library committee was established also to protect librarians and teachers from lawsuits. In a state where there is a high degree of sexual assault of children, a teacher who assigns a book about child rape is introducing literature into classrooms where there are likely more than one victim of these kinds of crimes. If a guardian complains, the teacher or librarian could face civil penalties or even lose their license.
“All students have a constitutional right to inquire, to study, and to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. As the Supreme Court ruled over 40 years ago, ‘the school library is the principal locus of that freedom.’ Mat-Su School District needs to respect that right,” said Northern Justice Project’s Savannah Fletcher, advocating for no limits to pornographic material for children.
“The District acted in a way that put its personal views and prejudices ahead of the fundamental rights afforded to Alaskan students. Removing classic reads and award-winning literature from bookshelves violates students’ rights to receive ideas and information. This is a foundational component of the rights of young Alaskans to exercise freedom of speech, press, and political expression. Book banning in any public setting is unacceptable,” said the ACLU’s Ruth Bostein, also advocating for unlimited pornography for children.
“As a parent to a biracial child, my child needs to be represented in books. I believe that book banning only further promotes intolerance, suppression of ideas or information, and creates seclusion making at-risk youth all the more at-risk. I am joining this lawsuit to send the School District the message: enough is enough,” said plaintiff Dawn Adams, who is associated with the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s R.O.C.K. Mat-Su program to end child maltreatment.
The timing of the lawsuit is key. It comes after the liberal candidates for the Mat-Su School Board lost to the conservative candidates during the November borough elections.