First came Robert James Waller’s bestseller “The Bridges of Madison County” about an Iowa woman’s affair with a photojournalist while her husband and kids are away at the state fair. The novel has a happy ending when she chooses to stay with her family.
Now comes “The Abridgers of Madison County.” In this nonfiction work, Christian nationalists in a Virginia county north of Charlottesville violate the constitutional separation of church and state by banning great literature from a public high school library. It will not have a happy ending unless a judge decides that religious extremists cannot turn their faith into public policy and force their beliefs on those who don’t share them.
We warned in the past about the Madison County Board of Education and its book-banning ways. The latest plot twist came on Jan. 12 when the board banned 21 books from the Madison High School library. This means children will not be able to check out these books even with parental consent.
People are also reading…
This decision mocks the concept of parental rights that led to the books being pulled from library shelves in the first place. The board required the volumes to be placed so that no student could check them out without the permission of their mom, dad or legal guardian.
What has now happened represents the brave new world of public school censorship brought to you by members of the evangelical right wing. These folks believe they are so much holier than you that they should be able to tell your kids what to read in public school.
What happened in Madison County is the logical conclusion to the misnamed “parental rights” campaign gimmick favored by many Republican politicians, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. They say it is a parent’s right to opt out of books that they don’t want used to teach their children. Now, the Madison School Board has substituted its beliefs for the judgment of thousands of mothers and fathers. This movement is not libertarian. It is authoritarian and about as un-American as it gets.
Thomas Jefferson trusted Americans’ ability to deal with an open forum of ideas. The First Amendment guarantees not just freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion.
Or in this case, freedom from religion.
As we noted the last time we wrote about the censorship movement in Madison, we believe the danger lies in letting people with ideological agendas and narrow minds determine what is fit to read. Professional librarians review the volumes they include in school collections in total context. What happened in Madison County, and what likely will happen in other places in Virginia where Christian nationalists take power, takes things out of context in ways that misrepresent what books are actually about.
Youngkin empowered this sort of selectivity by requiring schools to judge every book by whether it is “sexually explicit.” This plays neatly into evangelical control of content that has more to do with religious conservatives’ politics and prudery than with pornography. This approach turns a couple of sex scenes in several hundred pages of narrative into an excuse to dismiss an entire volume as inappropriately prurient.
This is how you get rid of prize-winning literature about racism, such as “Tar Baby,” “The Bluest Eyes,” “Sula,” and “Love” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.
It is why Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood’s study of misogyny and rape, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” gets withheld as if it is titillating.
It explains the way the Madison School Board keeps “Snow Falling on Cedars” away from students. The novel is not about sex. It is an important, beautifully told tale about love and forgiveness in the wake of the Japanese-American internment and the trauma of white Americans who fought in the Pacific during World War II.
Critics gave Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” the National Book Award. The Madison School Board gave it the boot.
Here’s hoping some brave parents of Madison High students sue to regain their parental and constitutional rights. Otherwise, public education in Virginia may find itself on a slippery slope toward stupidity.