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EDITORIAL: Freedom turns to ashes when books are burned
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EDITORIAL: Freedom turns to ashes when books are burned

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The Spotsylvania County School Board has ignited a firestorm of controversy—figuratively, it not yet literally—with its decision to ban sexually explicit books from school libraries.

Responding to a parent’s complaint, the board voted 6-0 Monday to order school staff to remove books containing sexually explicit material. Banning books is inflammatory enough on its own, but then board members Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twigg stoked the flames by suggesting that the banned books be burned.

Perhaps one shouldn’t be shocked when outrage begets outrageous comments, but it’s appalling that anyone in charge of educating children would even suggest such a thing.

It’s not unreasonable to make sure books in school libraries are appropriate for the ages of students served by that library. But it is unreasonable—and un-American—to begin stripping shelves without first defining what is “explicit,” what is appropriate and who decides if a book fits the definition. What one parent finds objectionable, another may not.

The Bible contains passages dealing with sex, not to mention killing and torture. Should the Bible be banned? What about other books dealing with murder and torture? If books with explicit sex encourage sexual behavior, do we assume books that deal with violence encourage murder?

Schools are for educating children and preparing the next generation of citizens to advance our society. What are we teaching students by banning books and threatening to burn them? Is that the American ideal we want them to embrace?

The School Board could provide better leadership by considering ways to restrict access to books some parents find objectionable without banning them outright. Schools require parental permission for field trips and other things; how difficult would it be to do the same for certain books?

There are signs that the situation may be cooling down. The School Board’s attorney has advised the members that the book ban is unconstitutional and Battlefield District representative Baron Braswell told Free Lance-Star reporter Adele Uphaus-Conner that he will introduce a motion to rescind it.

Meanwhile, Abuismail is backing away from his fiery rhetoric, saying his suggestion to burn the books was made in frustration.

The board meets again Monday to get a report on questionable books and to hear from the public, which could include a number of students. We hope board members will use this opportunity to support constitutional freedoms and offer an example of how leadership in America is supposed to work.

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