Mar 4, 2007
Book banning saga reads like a mystery novel
The book banning and censorship saga by the anti-gay hate group known as the “LOVE” PAC (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) is just about at its most bizarre point ever with an actual investigation by the FBI.
The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus has done an excellent job of covering the story despite unjustified charges of “yellow journalism” and continuing to push the story to sell papers. I don’t know how any legitimate newspaper can ignore a story that the entire community is talking about. However, the story in Sunday’s newspaper on the controversy is pushing that envelope a just a bit.
The so-called “love” group has been waging a losing book banning battle for the past four months against “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them,” Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," an acclaimed memoir written by Richard Wright in 1945, "Black Boy " and the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel "Slaughterhouse Five.” The group falsely claims they are pornographic, and they want them banned from Howell High School AP English classes.
Last month the leader of the so-called “love” group and the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans, Vicki Fyke, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse claiming the books in question violate child pornography laws and further makes the ridiculous claim that the books' presence in high school classrooms violates the law by disseminating sexually explicit material to minors. The U.S. Attorney actually took the bizarre step of having the FBI investigate, and Morse is expected to have a decision Monday. That’s where the story stands today.
A story in the newspaper Friday told us there has been no other action, and that Morse is still actually considering this ridiculous claim and is expected to have his decision Monday. However, he seems to be setting us up for another bizarre decision to actually move forward. Now, his office has made some questionable moves in the past on some cases, but he is usually above politics and generally same.
The only thing newsy about Friday’s story is a collation of free speech and literary groups sent an open letter to the Howell School Board taking the Federal prosecutor to task for the ridiculous decision investigating the absurd claim and urging the books not be censored.
Sunday’s story offers no new information, but apparently the paper held back a Morse quote that basically says this could be a 1st Amendment test case that could effect libraries and bookstores across the country. God forbid we get any more bad publicity for the Howell area.
The article added a few quotes- the most amusing one from David Hudson Jr., a lawyer with the Tennessee-based First Amendment Center – who said he “literally laughed at the thought that the books would be legally barred from distribution to minors.”
"I can't imagine this would get very far," he said when told the titles of the books in question. "It's a misguided, heavy-handed attempt that constitutes an egregious violation of the First Amendment." However, there is no news in the story that has not been reported before.
However, it’s nice to see the newspaper talking a stand against censorship on the OP-ED page, and the editorial page is the only place where a story cannot be “covered to death” or the newspaper can be accused of so-called “yellow journalism.”
Rich Perlberg, the executive editor of the newspaper, points out the absurdity of a federal law enforcement agency investigating prize-winning literature for obscenity in a column Sunday.
“Fyke is a Howell-area woman who is the most public face of LOVE, a citizens group that has somehow enlisted our county prosecutor, a federal prosecutor and the FBI into a misguided — that's the kindest word for it — investigation into whether our teachers and administrators are peddling porn.
It is totally reasonable for people to have different opinions about whether certain books are appropriate for high school students. It is beyond comprehension that an intelligent person could spend more than 30 seconds to decide if teachers are guilty of a felony when they assign the works of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Toni Morrison. Morrison, by the way, has won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.”
In order to be legally defined as pornography, a book must be found to appeal only to readers' prurient interest in sex, and have no literary or educational value. But all of these books have won numerous prizes, awards and praise from many, many literary groups, and that automatically meets the definition of having “literary merit.”
“I'm confident that Morse will make the right call. But I'll wonder forever why it took him so long,” Perlberg wrote.
I hope he is correct, but the after the bizarre turns this case has taken nothing would surprise me.