Deborah Caldwell-Stone: Parents should not be able to dictate what other parents’ children can read
Deborah Caldwell-Stone is director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association. In this Miami Herald op-ed, she argues against limiting books available to other peoples’ children.
The American Library Association fully supports the right of every parent to control what their child reads and to select alternative reading or instructional materials for their child. We do not believe, however, that a parent’s right to control their child’s reading includes a right to restrict what other children read, or to limit the books that are available to young people in the library.
Our belief is rooted firmly in the First Amendment. Young people have First Amendment rights — not only the right to speak but the right to access and use the resources of the school or public library, free from any censorship that arises from disapproval of a book’s content or views. Our courts of law — including the Supreme Court — have said that a decision by a school or library board to remove a book from its library because the board disapproves of the words, ideas or opinions contained in the book is a violation of a minor’s First Amendment rights.
This principle applies even when it is a parent or group of parents demanding that elected or appointed officials censor books they find shocking or inappropriate because the books conflict with their moral, political or religious beliefs. While the First Amendment promises freedom of belief and the right to express that belief, it does not guarantee a right to dictate to school boards or library boards what ideas or beliefs may be found in our publicly funded libraries.