Friday, April 29, 2005

Sense and Censorship

I just received an email from a good friend, and the email included a link to the following article, along with the suggestion that I Blog on it:

Alabama Bill Targets Gay Authors

At first blush, I was rather disturbed by the idea. Especially when the article starts out like this:

(CBS) A college production tells the story of Matthew Sheppard, a student beaten to death because he was gay.

And soon, it could be banned in Alabama.

As soon as I read that, I got fired up, all ready to launch into a "What part of no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; didn't you understand?" rant.

Please understand. As a thelogically conservative Christian, I believe that the practice of homosexuality is immoral. But I aslo believe strongly that when we start playing favorites with regards to the Consititution, we're treading on a mighty thin lava crust over a mighty deep pool of magma. The same Constitution that protects your right to tell me that Homosexuality is OK is the same Constitution that protects my right to tell you you're wrong. If I kick that right out from under you, I find mself at risk as well.

But as I read the article further, I started to question my initial impression. It seems possible that the CBS News reporter who filed this report may have sensationalized things a bit (As shocking as it may be to some to think that CBS might be... ahem... creative in their presentation...). The article goes on to say:

As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under [Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen's] bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

While that's still an iffy proposition, that's a bit different than "banned in Alabama". So before I address the issue of the bill itself, I'd like to finish the article, and point out one other bit of overreacting, this time on the part of an interviewee:

"I think it's an absolutely absurd bill," says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

First Amendment advocates say the ban clearly does amount to censorship.

"It's a Nazi book burning," says Potok. "You know, it's a remarkable piece of work."

Try to take a deep breath, Mark. I understand your opposition to the law, but Godwinesque hyperbole isn't helping. It may (or may not) be a bad law, but it's by NO stretch a "Nazi Book burning". If it were, there'd be, ya know, Nazis and bonfires and such.

Now, as for the law itself:

I have a real dilemma on my hands with regards to this law. The problem is that it specifically targets public school libraries. In the article, Strassman reports

Librarian Donna Schremser fears the "thought police," would be patrolling her shelves.

"And so the idea that we would have a pristine collection that represents one political view, one religioius view, that's not a library,'' says Schremser.

Again, Schremser's overstating the point, so I'll return the favor. I have NO problem whatsoever with the judicious screening of material made available to underage children. Ms. Schremser seems to disagree, and thinks all viewpoints should be represented. Should I conclude then that she advocate the placement of Playboy or Hustler or The Anarchist's Cookbook in an elementary school library? I think not. so if we eliminate the extremes, both "This is thought police" and "This is pornography", we find that there's a middle ground -- the agreement that Children DO need a certain level of protection from images or words that could damage them. The question becomes, which images? Which ideas? The Devil is in the details.

Now, I would argue that banning an author JUST because he or she was/is gay is a stretch. And I furthermore have no objection to the sympathetic portrayal of a gay character. I'd draw the line at the graphic portrayal of sex, gay OR straight. But in the middle we have the issue of literature that advocates the gay lifestyle.

Which leads me to a conclusion I reached only as I wrote this entry. I believe firmly that it is the right and duty of parents to teach their children morality and ethics. First and forempst my job is to love my son, provide for him, and teach him right from wrong. That's not a school's job. And so I would argue that it would be fair to regulate books that directly address moral issues -- either allow all viewpoints (which means requiring that P.S. Libraries stock books that both advocate and oppose a given moral viewpoint), or remain silent on all viewpoints (which means requiring that P.S. Libraries avoid stock books that either advocate and oppose a given moral viewpoint).

In addition, I also believe that if parents were more actively involved with their childrens' educations, this would be an issue. That's why I'll be keeping a close eye on the TV programs, movies, music, and books The Lad has access to growing up. It's also one more reason I'm seriously looking long and hard at home schooling.