A Ban by Any Other Name…


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To the Editor:

I read Mr. Nixon’s July 7th opinion in this publication entitled “Facts are Stubborn Things.” It is both ironic and fitting that Mr. Nixon relies on this particular John Adams quote.  Adams used it in his erroneous defense of the British soldiers who fired on a crowd of American Patriots in what we now refer to as the “Boston Massacre.” History has proven President Adams was wrong – not because facts are not important, but because, like Mr. Nixon, Adams was simply incorrect in his belief that the “facts” supported his claim. Like Mr. Nixon, he saw only some facts – those which suited his argument – and was unable to see the larger picture.

For starters, those supporting censoring these books have recently shifted to talking about its availability to “eight year-olds” because, in their world, second graders are now somehow “tweens”. Not only do most mainstream dictionaries and encyclopedias start the definition of tween somewhere between ages ten and twelve, but the point is moot. The PGN Library itself sets the definition of the Tween/Teen room’s audience as “middle and high school aged” children. Even more on point, the library has a Child Safety Policy which explicitly disallows children under 12 to be there unaccompanied. “Staff members will use their judgment when dealing with unattended children under 12… Staff may call the Connecticut State Police to assume responsibility of the minor if a parent/guardian cannot be reached…” That policy makes sense because leaving a kid alone at a library under age 12 is against state law (C.G.S. § 53-21a.)

So now we’ve established what I’ll call “Fact Number One” – even if one agrees to the preposterous notion that being in the same room as a book is somehow a danger for eight year-olds, that room is explicitly limited – by both library policy and Connecticut Law to unaccompanied children twelve and over.

Let’s look at what other facts Mr. Nixon has overlooked or misstated. He adamantly proclaims that the censorship proponents “are not advocating banning any books” and that the drafters of the RTC letter are being unjustly vilified as “book banners.” So what are the facts? Well, the American Libraries Association (the independent national organization which tracks and reports book challenges across the U.S.) defines a book challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” The authors of the RTC letter explicitly seek removal of (at least) two books from the Tween/Teen section, and restriction of the same to an area less accessible to young adults. But to ensure that there was no misunderstanding, we contacted the ALA to let them weigh in. They noted that this letter would unequivocally constitute a reportable event stating, “Restricting access to materials (by relocating them, requiring parental permission, placing them in a closed stacks area, etc.) is an act of censorship with First Amendment implications.” If the authors take issue with the label “book banners,” then fine, they are officially “book censors/restrictors arguably attempting to infringe First Amendment rights.” A bit clunky if you ask me, but consistent with cases like Sund v. Wichita Falls which found forcing a library to move books from the children’s section to the adult section unconstitutional. That’s Fact Number Two.

So let’s talk about the merits. Surely the RTC doesn’t take the position that a library room designed for a combined audience of tweens and teens should only have content for the lower end of the age range? Some books in the room may be targeted at 12 year-olds and others for 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. It should be obvious that the two do not overlap completely. A high school senior may enjoy “The Kite Runner” but find Nancy Drew too juvenile, and a twelve year-old may like Beverly Cleary books but not “Twilight.”  The purpose of the Tween/Teen room is to provide a broad range of reading material for a broad range of individuals. Books which are meant for teens – like this one which literally has the subtitle “The Teen’s Guide…” – belong in the room curated for teens, even if that room also contains books for pre-teens. 

But let’s unpack the RTC theory. We are meant to believe that the mere fact that a twelve year-old may be in the same room as a book targeting older children is detrimental. Move it to a larger room in the same building where that same twelve year-old will still have access, however, and it’s fine. There’s very little logic here. What happens when a child does go looking for this book in the adult section? It will likely be surrounded by more graphic materials that are explicitly intended for adults. If the point is to protect children from graphic depictions of sex, and we all agree that the book should remain “unbanned” and available, then why are we sending children to a section which will contain more graphic books? The argument is senseless. It’s nothing more than a backdoor means of denying access to those for whom this book is written.

More generally, the idea that because one person finds something religiously or morally objectionable it should be denied for all is simply un-democratic. If a family kept a strictly kosher, halal or morally vegetarian diet, we would all agree that no matter how sincerely they held these beliefs, and no matter how much they believed eating in this way was a moral imperative, demanding that the entire school cafeteria stop serving any other food would be a dramatic overreach. We would explain, “We respect your individual moral beliefs, and you should certainly direct your children to eat in the way you deem appropriate, but we won’t impose those beliefs on everyone. I’m sure it’s true that having meal options that your family finds objectionable will require you to discuss with your children what they individually can and cannot consume, but we can’t let that affect others. Because others may disagree.” 

Which brings me to Fact Number Three. With regard to the morality and appropriateness of the books in question: others may disagree.

What’s important to note about “Let’s Talk About It” is that it is 233 pages long.  Those seeking to move this teen book out of the teen section seem to take issue with seven of those pages. Even if one were to concede these seven pages are obscene (certainly a subjective judgment), the other 226 pages contain valuable insights on things like consent, body image and healthy relationships. If some families still find the material objectionable, the solution is pretty simple – tell your kids to stay away from books about sex ed until you review them. And if you do not trust your children to comply with that directive, don’t expect that the library and the community at large will serve as your babysitters. (Notably, the library is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, not a government body, and parents should have no more expectation of dropping off kids under 12 there than they do the Old Lyme Historical Society or the Salvation Army.)

Finally, let me conclude with Fact Number Four – John Adams is with us. He may have had his facts wrong in the quote Mr. Nixon cites, but he was spot on in this one:

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough…. The more one reads the more one sees we have to read.

David Rubino
Old Lyme, CT

Rubino is a member of the Old Lyme Democratic Town Council and was a Democratic candidate in 2020 for a seat in the State House of Representatives