Dr. Marvin E. Edwards
School District U-46
355 East Chicago Street
Elgin, IL 60120
Dear Dr. Edwards,
We write to urge you to reinstate Judy Blume’s novel, Forever, in the middle school libraries in District 46.
According to recent news reports, the decision to remove the book, and the desire to keep it out now, are based on disapproval of its content and message. Specifically, the book has been targeted because some people object to the story on moral and religious grounds. One board member was quoted as saying that he objected to the book because he wanted to "‘teach my children the highest standard of moral cleanliness.’" Another was characterized as concluding that the book is "morally inappropriate."
While parents are free to act on such beliefs in limiting their own children’s reading choices, they have no right to impose their views on others or to demand that the school adopt and enforce their literary preferences. School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular or controversial ideas. The Supreme Court has cautioned that, "[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’" Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion).
Thus, "if the decisive factor behind the removal of any book was the school board members’ personal disapproval of the ideas contained in the book, then under Pico the removal was unconstitutional." Case v. Unified School District No. 233, 908 F.Supp. 864, 875 (D. Kan. 1995). This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has "a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics." Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995). Thus, in Pico, the Court rejected the claim that school officials may engage in viewpoint discrimination in library selections to transmit "community values." Unlike "the compulsory environment of the classroom," in the library, the "regime of voluntary inquiry" controls. 457 U.S. at 869.
Forever is hardly the one-dimensional book its detractors claim. The story takes place when the protagonist is 17 and 18 years old — in other words, just as she is becoming an adult. It explores some of the most pressing issues for adolescents: dealing with romance and sexuality, peer pressure, death, responsibility, maturity. The book contains messages that many parents would consider valuable: the teenagers speak openly to one another about their relationship; they act in a sexually responsible way; the female character is strong and makes her own decisions; her parents are involved and try to help her make constructive decisions; the negative consequences of promiscuity are displayed. In short, the novel tells a realistic story with complex figures and themes that are important to adolescents who are beginning to think about approaching adulthood.
Some parents prefer to keep their children from reading about sex; others may strongly disapprove of teen sexual activity and still not censor their children’s reading. Some parents appreciate books like Forever, because they can create opportunities for adults and teens to talk about sensitive topics. Even if the novel’s themes are too mature for some students, they will be meaningful to others. No book is right for everyone, and the role of the library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values. No one has to read something just because it’s on the library shelf.
We hope you will consider carefully your constitutional responsibility as school officials. Parents who object to this book are entitled to their view, but not to impose it on others. They have no constitutional right to banish a book from the library because it conflicts with their personal values; but neither do they or their children have to read it. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
Joan E. Bertin
National Coalition Against Censorship
cc: Members of the Board of Education
Dimitra DeFotis, Chicago Tribune