November 13, 2023

Robert Tracinski: When “Liberty” Means Censorship

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Writer Robert Tracinski takes not of Moms for Liberty.

Moms for Liberty, an activist organization founded and led by conservative women, has emerged in the last two years to oppose, in the name of “parental rights,” what it sees as leftist indoctrination in public schools.

There are worthwhile arguments to be had about contemporary gender ideology and about how to respond to the history and legacy of race in America—about how to address these issues in public institutions like schools and where to draw the line between necessary instruction and ideological indoctrination. In a nation with 50 million children in thousands of school districts, there will be no shortage of controversial examples to be debated.

But a thoughtful debate is not what Moms for Liberty has offered. Instead, it has become the driving force behind a sweeping wave of book bans and politicized restrictions on teaching.

He looks at M4L’s work in Tennessee as an example of how they have operated.

A revealing microcosm of its national effort can be seen in a running battle over the schools in Williamson County, Tennessee. I talked recently with Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch, who has become a target of Moms for Liberty despite being a conservative, a Christian, a military veteran, and—as he tells me—a guy “with a dog named Reagan.” Welch, who stressed that he speaks for himself and not the board, explained that the county had never had partisan school board elections before, because education wasn’t considered a partisan issue. Not anymore. Being a member of the school board is usually a thankless job that involves a lot of tedious discussions about administrative policy and budgets. Now it has become a political hot button that attracts partisan activists.

The big Moms for Liberty demand came in the form of a letter from Williamson County chapter chair Robin Steenman demanding the removal of books from the public school curriculum and changes to the manual given to teachers to accompany these readings. What are these objectionable books? They include Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story—the story of the first black girl to attend a newly integrated school in Louisiana. Among the complaints about the book is that it shows Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction of Bridges in his painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

That’s right: Norman Rockwell is too subversive for Moms for Liberty.

The letter demands an end to the “negative psychological effect” and “emotional trauma” that might come from learning too much about the history of segregation. There is a certain irony that conservatives have spent years complaining about overly sensitive “snowflakes” who demand to be shielded from opposing views and need “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”—yet here are conservatives demanding a safe space to shield children from basic facts about the struggle for civil rights. Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich has denied that Steenman made any such demands, but you can read the letter for yourself.

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