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.


Republican Michigander said...

Two things off the bat that need to be mentioned.

1. Vicki is no longer TARS sponsor.

2. The issue addressed in the statute isn't whether the books are pornographic. The issue is whether it is sexually explicit matter. MCL 722.675

As to the issue itself, I think Dave Morse and his staff are going a good job here by getting enough information and taking enough time before making his decision.

There are three legal questions on the state level that need to be addressed.

1. Is the material sexually explicit matter? I think the Bluest Eye qualifies there.

2. Is the English class part of the school exception under 722.676? If so, there is no case. If not, then there is a case based on the statute itself.

3. Is it worth a test case? I can see challenges on either 1st Amendment or vagueness grounds (if not both). I'll bet money that this statute would be challenged if there is a prosecution. A pro-gun attorney I know always tells gun owners not to be the test case when there is a questionable law. Reason being that there is no gaurantee for victory.

On a side note, the underlying problem is the pissing contest between LOVE and the School board/admins. I think if all sides sat down and discussed matters rationally that this issue would not be referred to prosecutors in the first place and would have ended a long time ago.

Communications guru said...

1. As far as I am concerned she is. It's right there in black and white. Even if she was no longer the sponsor, she once was the sponsor, and that speaks volumes on what’s wrong with the Republican Party. You might want to take a look at the Livingston GOP web site; they contradict you.

2. I don’t care. The two books I read meet neither.

There’s nothing for Morse to decide. It’s not his job to decide content or curriculum.

I didn’t see “The Bluest Eye” as obscene or overly sexually explicit any more than MTV’s “The Real World” or other prime time teen shows. I kept hearing about this explicit, incestuous rape scene, but it was anything but.

These books are prize-winning literature that have been used in classrooms across the country for years, and for some totally unqualified person with a political agenda to tell everyone what's acceptable and proper is just wrong.

A “pissing contest between LOVE and the School board/admins? “ are you serious? That’s just ridiculous. A complaint was made about the book “The Freedom Writers,” and the decision to use that book was reviewed and the book rightfully reinstated. That’s more than I would have done for them. A parent, yes, “love,” no. The hate group then threw the rest of the books in because some minor changes were being made to the curriculum.

The only decision that will satisfy this group of censors is totally banning the books, and how can any one doubt that after reading her statements? Unless the administration said, “OK, these books are out” would the letter not have been sent. Fyke has even said she has another plan up her sleeve if this scheme does not work; a scheme she refuses to reveal publicly.

Kathy said...

This debate made it into the Grand Blanc section of the Flint Journal on Sunday. The columnist said we sell kids short when we ban edgy books, and she made some common sense, non reactionary observations. Her bottom line was that we should be letting the professionals (schools) do their jobs, and I agree.

Communications guru said...

That was a very good column, and I agree with it 100 percent. It was nice to see she brought out the sane action of the school board and not the narrow-minded hate group that thrives in this county.

Anonymous said...

CG, you are just as bad as Fyke. Most people in the middle see this for what it is. 15% hard core on one side, 15% hard core on the other. The 70% in the middle just want common sense solutions. You stir the pot with all your hyperbole just like she does. The P&A has turned into a tabloid and most people just want this to go away. There are fools on both sides, and you and Vicki take the cake. You are just as of the beaten path as she is. You have this blog that is nothing but leftist propaganda and it really has no intellectual value whatsoever. Most Americans are sick of the CG's and Vicki's of the world. Get off your high horse because no side has a monopoly of virtue here!

Communications guru said...

How did you reach that ridiculous conclusion? I have not tried to censor books, I have not tried to have police decide what literature is and I have not been putting out press releases on my every move. All I have been doing is commenting on this disgusting attempt at censorship and defending the 1st Amendment, and I, like the majority of Americans, detest censorship.

The 70 percent figure you quote is more like the percentage of people who support my position. There is a commons sense solution, and there always has been. You can opt out and have your child read another book. The anti-gay hate group known as “love” asked the board to review the books, and they did. But the only thing that will satisfy them is if these five books are banned from Howell High School. They don’t want a compromise, and they have demonstrated that. What am I doing wrong? They asked the administration to review the books, and they did. They did not get the result they wanted, so they created this situation.

You are overestimating the 15 percent you claim are on your and Fyke’s side. Again, I hate censorship, and this is exactly what it its. Why am I the problem? Because I am challenging your and Fyke’s ridiculous claims? Then I am guilty for standing up to censorship, and proud of it.

The newspaper is doing its job. How can you ignore something that everyone in towns is talking about, occurred at a public meeting of the elected school board, tax payer dollars are being wasted while people read Nobel prize winning literature on tax-payer funded time and the story is being picked up nationally and still call yourself a reliable news outlet?

If what I am writing is “hyperbole” then why don’t your try and refute it? If this “blog that is nothing but leftist propaganda and it really has no intellectual value whatsoever “ then why are you reading it and posting here? If that was the case it should be easy to refute what I have written, but you can’t so you stoop to name-calling. No wonder you post anonymously.

You are wrong about me “being off the beaten path” because there are more people that support freedom of choice, and hate censorship and love books and ideas and support banning books and censoring authors.

Anonymous said...

If you can't see the fact that you and your blog (not only book issue) are not mainstream, then there is no sense in debating you. I guess it is like a train wreck, people just have to look. You again try to lump anyone with a different view in with the extreme (Fyke). This is a tactic the left uses well. Define people into catagories and generalize and oversimplifly issues. There are far more people out there with a moderate view of this than you think. There is such a thing as age approprietness. That is not "Censorship." I think some of the books are okay and some are intended for a more mature reader. That is not censorship, it is called parenting. If you say students can opt out, then why not have an opt in for some of the more graphic novels?? I am also disturbed by the lack of diversity in message. The books are written from a leftist point of view. Why not include a book like "Kite Runner?" It is, in part, about the good our society has done to improve the future of the Afgahn society. Believe it or not, the US does a lot of good for the world. The Slaughter House Five is only one perspective. I don't object to it, as long as there is balance.

Communications guru said...

I have Democratic values, and Michigan has been a blue state since 1992. That seems to make my views pretty mainstream to me. There are very few people who support censorship, so I think my views are relatively moderate, although I am very liberal on some things. If you are not equipped to debate me that’s fine. You just don’t have to make up an excuse.

I’m sorry; I think book banning and having law enforcement judge prize-winning literature to see if it's suitable is very, very extreme. The age appropriate argument might have flown until the administration reviewed the books again and the board voted, but asking law enforcement to investigate blew that argument right out the window. Fyke has said no matter what happens with the last remaining investigation by the FBI – of all people – she will not give up. How is that not extreme, and where’s the age appropriateness there? Anytime to try and stop someone from reading something it’s censorship. It’s pretty cut and dry. Now, if you as a parent want to be the one to do that, I have no problem with it.
I don’t understand your question about optioning for more graphic novels. To get chosen as part of curriculum, it must go through three different committees of professional educators, two administrators and the elected school board. That seems pretty through to me.

I thought it was obscenity you were upset about, not the alleged political view of the books. That’s an argument I have not heard before, and I’m sure that’s one hidden reason driving this insane censorship drive. Now, I can only comment on the books I have read, “The Bluest Eye” and “Black Boy.” I fail to see how racial prejudice, Jim Crow and discrimination are Communist views or written from a Communist viewpoint. I also fail to see the liberal view there either.

I have never heard of "Kite Runner.” Why don’t you suggest it to the Superintendent of Curriculum? I think “Worse Than Watergate” by John Dean would be a good book to have the students read, but isn’t this advanced English?

Anonymous said...

You keep stating the same things. LOVE is not mainsteam... okay, I agree. The point I made is that you are out of the mainstream, too. Just because the Democrat won state wide races lately do not make you moderate. That is a pretty lame arguement. You are a left wing ideologue. The idea that the views (for the most part) you write on this site are mainstream is ridiculous. You are probably on the fringe of your own party. You never have a positive thing to write and I think that you have some deep issues.

Communications guru said...

You think being against censorship is out of the mainstream? I disagree 100 percent. No, the point is not that “Democrats won state wide races lately.” It’s that most of my positions are the positions and views of the Democratic Party, and this has traditionally been a blue state. Some are more liberal than others and some are more moderate. Which means that for the most part my views are mainstream and moderate.

Show me some of my extreme views. Again, if my positions are so extreme, out of the mainstream, hyperbole, and has no intellectual value whatsoever then why can’t you refute anything?

This is a political commentary blog, and there are plenty of positive things on this blog. Would you like me to point them out to you? Just because I don’t agree with you, somehow I need professional help and you’re a shrink? Now, that’s lame, and that has to be why you post anonymously

Anonymous said...

Love Group Not So Loving

Howell, MI: September 24, 2007: A right wing, religious-extremist group in this fast-growing, rural community of 10,000 continues its misguided invectives against its local school system. The Livingston Organization for Values in Education has become a transparent arm of the worst zealotry in national and local politics. The community, long-known for racist activity and subpopulations, had, many thought, turned a corner in acceptance and tolerance. But after the local school system’s Board of Education, representing 8000 public school students passed a diversity resolution in 2003, the so-called LOVE group began its pattern of hate, disrupting Board meetings and creating ill-found reputations for the district, its residents, its students, and its employees.

The school system (located equally in distance from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, is State renowned for its exemplary schools, model programs, and excellent faculty and facilities…or at least it was until the hateful LOVE group surfaced.

Operating from core-values of homophobia, racism, and intolerance, the group took its hate campaign to other extremists, across the country via the web, orchestrating a pattern of hate-mail, erroneously claiming that tolerance and acceptance in the school’s diversity resolution were really advocacy and promotion of lifestyles. The District’s diversity resolution remains unchanged since 2003 (when it was enacted) and is posted in each of the district’s eleven schools.

Following a high school student-diversity club’s posting of a (clearly worded) diversity flag, the hateful LOVE group immediately cast the flag as a gay and lesbian banner, whipping local and state media into a coverage frenzy. The militant four or five core members of the group of 15 petitioned the Board to hang a cross-emblazoned Christian flag in the high school’s halls in celebration of a young Christian’s group. Both flags continue to be in use when members of the two clubs convene.

After a German church group, Voices of Heaven, disguising itself as a school exchange program, appeared in the District’s high school, LOVE group members complained that all of the group’s vocal music should have been Christian text. The District’s guidelines, in support of the United States Constitution, do not allow for the establishment of any one religion; school policies appropriately call for less than fifty percent religious music at school concerts.

The group created another firestorm in the community last winter when it claimed that Toni Morrison’s acclaimed Bluest Eye and Erin Gruwell’s Freedom Writers’ Diary constituted school-distribution of pornography. County prosecutors and State and national attorneys-general found no merit in the unloving and specious logic of the group’s angry, vitriolic leader Vicki Fyke. Local residents had enough and called for the Board of Education’s support of teachers and administrators. The loveless LOVE group countered with foundation-less calls for teacher-, board-member, and superintendent-resignations. A sensationalistic local press regularly extols the clash of local schools versus a small, vocal clan of hate-mongers who blog daily to discredit and misrepresent the school system.

LOVE is in the air in Howell, and the stench is fetid. Reasonable Board members have all but left the Board, sick to their stomachs with misguided LOVE-attempts to disrupt the district’s educational pursuits. At least one Board member, who home schools her children, is sickeningly tied to the nastiness of the LOVE group. Equally deranged peers wait to join her on the Board.

Teachers and administrators hold firm in keeping the public schools protected from faith-based initiatives, Bible-based curricula, fear-spreading censorship, and narrow limits for students’ consideration of life beyond Howell.

Howell is a community on the brink, but good and tolerant people see LOVE for what it is… a desperate assembly of right-wing extremists attempting to advance a vengeful politic without regard for the education of children. Even the town’s ministerial council wants nothing to do with the imbecilic members of this hate-filled group. The county’s largely Republican populace denies connections to the outlandish excesses of the outlier group.