Cleburne ISD Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard removed The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett from the Cleburne High School curriculum in Cleburne, TX, after parents complained about sexual content in the book. The Pillars of the Earth had been part of the senior honors English curriculum at Cleburne High since 1996. Parents complained after the book was assigned this past summer, even though the teacher offered an alternative assignment for those who objected to the book.
The Kids’ Right to Read Project sent this letter to the superintendent and school board, opposing the book ban:
Dr. Ronny Beard, Superintendent
Members of the Cleburne County Board of Education
Cleburne Independent School District
505 North Ridgeway, Suite 100
Cleburne, Texas 76033
February 6, 2009
Dear Dr. Beard and Members of the Board of Education:
We write to urge you to restore Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett as part of the Cleburne High School curriculum. We understand that Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard has removed the book from the curriculum after parents complained about sexual content. Pillars of the Earth, an Oprah’s booklist book, has been part of the senior honors English curriculum at Cleburne High since 1996. Parents complained after the book was assigned this past summer, even though the teacher offered an alternative assignment for those who objected to sexual content. We are encouraged to hear that Stu Madison, the President of the Board, supports the book and believes that the book, when assessed as a whole, provides valuable lessons. Clearly, the views of a few parents are not shared by all, and banning the book would violate the First Amendment rights of students and parents who want their children to read the book. Thus, we urge the board to reinstate the book at its meeting on Monday, February 9th.
It is well established that parents have no enforceable right to have their viewpoint reflected in the school curriculum. No parent has the right “to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught.” Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). Nor do parents have “a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child.” Blau v. Fort Thomas Public School District, et al, 401 F.3d 381, 395 (6th Cir. 2005). Furthermore, the school has a constitutional obligation not to endorse or accommodate a particular perspective or viewpoint at the expense of alternative views: “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries 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, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion) citing West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).
The practical effect of acceding to any parent’s request to censor materials will be to invite others to demand changes in the curriculum to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.
We strongly urge you to restore Pillars of the Earth to the Cleburne High School curriculum. Individual freedom, democracy, and a good education all depend on protecting the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Read local news coverage in the Cleburne Times-Review:
"Citizens give board views on Follett Book," February 9, 2009
"Book stirs controversy at CHS," February 5, 2009