Poor, poor pitiful..

“Fairfax Public Libraries Ban Pro-Family Books,” announces the self described “Fairfax county outpost of The Family Foundation.”

Well, that sounds terribly wrong, doesn’t it? It would be wrong, too – if it were true.

Here’s an idea for a game that anyone can play. 1) Collect an armload of books that agree with your viewpoint on a controversial issue. The quality of the books doesn’t matter; bonus points if they’re published by what’s known in the industry as a “vanity press.” 2) Take them to your local public or school library and tell the librarian you want to make a donation. 3) When any or all of the books you donated are declined because they don’t meet the standards for inclusion in the collection, claim that they have been “banned” and that your personal rights have been violated.

The political stunt described above is what Focus on the Family did to honor Banned Books Week, as reported yesterday in the Washington Post. The Colorado Springs behemoth arranged for a group of students and parents to donate a collection of anti-gay books to some Fairfax Public School libraries; the books were reviewed according to the standards for the acquisition of library materials, and found to be lacking.

None of the donated titles met that standard, said Susan Thornily, coordinator of library information services for Fairfax schools. Some librarians also said that the nonfiction books were heavy on scripture but light on research, or that the books would make gay students “feel inferior,” she said.

Thornily said school librarians have rejected other books that “target minority groups” and would offend African Americans or other nonwhite students. In this case, librarians were concerned about the level of scholarship in the books, many of which come from small church publishers.

The activist group then held a press conference to declare themselves victims of censorship; Focus on the Family even flew one of their media people out from Colorado for the “event.” This strategy of redefining terms like “book banning” is something we are seeing more and more of. It’s just another version of the up-is-down notion that if people with anti-gay prejudice are inhibited from violating the rights of GLBT people, their own rights are being violated, or when we assert our right to live free of discrimination, we are being “intolerant” of those who wish to discriminate against us.

The Fairfax blog has helpfully made this easier to explain by drawing a comparison between their stunt and the controversy in Loudoun last summer over the children’s book And Tango Makes Three.

Tango was in the collection of several of our elementary school libraries because of the merits of the book. When it was selected by professional librarians, it was not simply because it added a viewpoint held by some in the community that was otherwise unrepresented in the collection. Although that is a legitimate criterion enumerated in most standards, materials also must meet other criteria of quality and scholarship. In the case of Tango, the book has won many awards and is otherwise highly regarded. There are many other books that present the idea of same sex parents, but they are of uneven quality. Many of them would not meet this standard of excellence, and I don’t think I have the “right” to demand that they be added to a collection just because I might agree with an idea they express. That’s not enough.

The Fairfax blog actually quoted me speaking about those who have embarked on campaigns to remove certain books from libraries in both Loudoun and Wasilla, Alaska:

…[they] find the expression of ideas with which they disagree intolerable, so much so that they will lie, steal, destroy property and abuse whatever power they may have in order to silence those ideas.

Interestingly, this quote refers to the fact that in Wasilla, a particular book targeted by Sarah Palin’s church in 1996 repeatedly disappeared from the public library, or was returned with pages ripped out or defaced. It’s difficult to see any similarity between this unlawful (not to mention uncivil) behavior, and the determination by a librarian that another book isn’t good enough to make the cut – yet, that’s exactly what they are claiming: “Sounds just like what is happening here in Fairfax!” And it should be obvious that there are a lot more books in the world than there is space in public school libraries to shelve them. Most books don’t make the cut. Appropriately, the Fairfax information services coordinator is willing to work with these residents to address their concerns:

Thornily said she has offered to help find books that meet the county standards and offer a religious view on homosexuality along with other views. She has asked librarians to consider adding such books to their collections.

That’s exactly what she should do – and she presumably would do the same with any other constituency that claimed their viewpoint was underrepresented. And this part made me laugh:

Focus on the Family selected and supplied the books. The teenagers assembled yesterday did not say they had read any of them.

Please – in the future, if you are going to participate in a stunt where you profess that your rights are being cruelly violated because your very important book isn’t taking up precious shelf space – read the book first.

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7 Responses to Poor, poor pitiful..

  1. Jonathan says:

    Gina Dalfonzo, the editor of BreakPoint just trumped the “poor, poor, pitiful”, adding the adjective stupid to the mix. In her very brief blog post, she links to the Washington Post article, not realizing how damning it is. Like the students who didn’t read the boring anti-gay books that they so desperately wanted on the shelves, she didn’t read the WashPost article. She also didn’t read Phillip Pullman’s Guardian article that cites “And Tango Makes Three”.

    Pullman has some pretty pithy quotes:

    n the case of The Golden Compass, the reason the book was challenged is listed as “Religious Viewpoint”, a reason that appears in connection with only one other book in the top five, a picture book called And Tango Makes Three. This is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo, who for a time formed a couple and hatched the egg of a mixed-sex couple who were unable to hatch two at once. This, if you can believe it, was challenged for six different reasons: “Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group.”

    Religious Viewpoint? Penguins?


    My basic objection to religion is not that it isn’t true; I like plenty of things that aren’t true. It’s that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.

    Gina may not be very good at reading comprehension, but she does have a good team of researchers. We should all keep tabs on the “BreakPoint blog. The unashamed ignorant and prideful strutting is very entertaining.

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  3. David says:

    Actually, no. I mocked Focus on the Family. They chose the books, and did not require that the students used in your stunt read them. That’s just unprofessional. I would never comment on a book I had not read.

    As I have clearly stated many times, I adamantly oppose censorship on the basis of ideas (and you owe me an apology for so egregiously misrepresenting my position). I would be happy to support the inclusion of books that you agree with if they meet the standards set by the library. Reviews have to be independent; reviews by the author or the vanity publisher don’t count for that purpose. My understanding is that the reviews you submitted were not legitimate reviews. If you can provide evidence to the contrary, please do.

    And yes, what you did was absolutely a stunt.

    I’m leaving this comment on our own blog because we know from experience that you censor yours. One of our board members left a comment on your previous post on this topic, and it was never released from moderation. How ironic.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Fairfax “Family” Forum,

    Thank you for linking to our blog. I’m responding here because you censor my comments when I try to respond on your blog.

    First of all, you do owe my husband an apology for misrepresenting his post.

    Second, this statement (awkward syntax aside):

    I’m sure Jonathan Rauch or Mel White’s books and the 300 or so others supporting the radical redefinition of marriage and same-sex sexual activity currently present in Fairfax public school libraries are not “balanced” and that’s okay—it doesn’t mean they should be excluded/banned/censored just as much as these books presenting a pro-family perspective shouldn’t be.

    Is problematic on two counts.

    1. Rauch and White are both conservative and their writings have already qualified for library collections because they are good. These books meet the “two positive reviews from professionally recognized journals” criteria. If any of the 85 donated books has been independently reviewed, please show us.

    2. Focus on the Family *has* advocated book banning. “And Tango Makes Three” is a perfect example. Dr. Dobson put out an action alert to the 25 million people on his list (most, not Loudouners) requesting that Dr Hatrick permanently ban “Tango”.

    You may claim that there is an “ideological litmus test”, and there is, but it’s yours and yours alone. We are inclusive and truly are pro-family. Please read the post Ignorance Kills and note that our community supports Thomas Beatie’s family. By any measure, his family’s story is one story in the normatively “ex-gay” journey. Integrity is critical. The Beatie’s have it. Would you support a book about the Beatie’s story if it was on the library shelves, or would you censor “ex-gay” stories that you don’t like?

  5. Resubmitting for a 3rd time, per your comment on the Fairfax Family Forum blog:


    Apparently you haven’t been back to our blog recently to see if your comment was present before leveling the charge of censorship. It was certainly not censored or modified in any way and has been approved as submitted… was just delayed a bit as I was out of the country last week virtually without internet access and am our organization’s only moderator. I find a bit of irony that you denounced a delay of barely over a week in approving a comment as censorship, however don’t seem to find anything wrong with a county systematically rejecting over 85 books donated by students as “not balanced” or “too Christian” over the course of a full year.

    Also, please don’t try to circumvent the issue at hand here by going on about Focus on the Family’s unrelated past projects. This is a local issue here in Fairfax and, while Focus generously helped the students when asked, the donation activity is student initiated and student led. Let’s talk about the issue at hand. As to your comment “that the reviews you submitted were not legitimate reviews.” Have you read them? I’m very curious how you made this determination, as well as the claim that the books were of “uneven quality.” Please correct me if you have info to back up this assertion, but to me it appears to be grounded in nothing more than animus towards the pro-family/Christian perspective these students sought to include.

  6. David says:

    FFF (btw, do you have a name?)

    This time your comment was caught in the spam filter, although I don’t see anything in it that should have caused that. Sorry for the tech problems.

    FYI, I checked with Jonathan, and he had checked to see whether his comment had been released just prior to his most recent comment here, timestamped Oct. 14. I don’t think it was unreasonable for him to conclude that it had been censored at that point, ten days later. I’m glad to see that’s not the case.

    Having said that, you still haven’t addressed his excellent points, none of which are irrelevant to the actions of your group.

    Do you have evidence that any of the 85 books your group donated meet the standard that all other books in the FCPS library system must meet, i.e. two positive reviews from professionally reviewed journals? According to the librarian that information had not been provided.

    If not, do you think that an exception should be made for material that does not meet that standard, simply because it expresses your viewpoint? I think that all material should be held to the same standard, whether I agree with its content or not.

    As I suggested on your blog, please read my post more carefully. You are assigning arguments and statements to me that I have not made.

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