Bob McCaslin, Mayor
City Hall Building
117 West Central
Bentonville, AR 72712


Cindy Suter, Library Director
Members of the Library Advisory Board
405 S. Main Street
Bentonville, AR 72712

May 1, 2007

Dear Mayor McCaslin, Ms. Suter, and Members of the Library Advisory Board:

We write to express our concern about the recent removal of the book, The Whole Lesbian Sex Book by Felice Newman, from circulation in the Bentonville Public Library.  We understand that the book was removed following a complaint and lawsuit brought by a Bentonville resident, Earl Adams, alleging that his sons, aged 14 and 16, were harmed after they accidentally came across the book in the library.  

The Whole Lesbian Sex Book is plainly not obscene, and is therefore fully protected under the First Amendment.  Its value to interested readers is demonstrated, in part, by the fact that the book is recommended by Library Journal, which calls it “superb” and asks “Why can’t more heterosexual sex manuals be this good?”  Simply because Mr. Adams objects to the book’s contents does not mean that other citizens of Bentonville should be prevented from reading the book if it interests them.

According to news reports, Adams has threatened that “[a]ny effort to reinstate the book will be met with legal action and protest from the Christian community,” revealing his view that the library’s contents should conform to his particular, narrow version of Christian beliefs.  However, the Constitution prohibits the public library from acceding to such viewpoint-based demands.  As many courts have noted, the public library’s role is to serve the entire community, not to reflect or cater to any specific viewpoint.   For example, in Sund v. City of Wichita Falls  (N.D. Tex., 2000)the court struck downa library’s petition system that allowed “any special interest group to suppress library materials on the basis of their content,” observing that the system “actually facilitates an infinite number of content- and viewpoint-based speech restrictions.”  As in Bentonville, Sund v. City of Wichita Falls concerned complaints about literature with homosexual themes, including Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman.

Mr. Adams has a right to his views, but they are not shared by all, and he has no right to impose them on others or to demand that the library policies reflect his personal preferences.  The practical effect of acceding to a request to remove materials is to invite others to demand changes in the library’s holdings to reflect their beliefs, leaving library staff vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.  If individuals object to a particular work, they are free to read something else.  Meanwhile, other readers should have the freedom to choose from an inclusive and expansive reading selection.

The Board removed the book, saying that it is “crude” and “unsuitable.”   However, this decision reflects, at best, Board members’ subjective judgments, and at worst a decision to bow to Adams’ accusations that the library promotes an “immoral social agenda.”  The decision is suspect, in either event.  The task of selecting library materials properly belongs to professional librarians, with the assistance of professional evaluations such as those published in Library Journal.  We strongly urge you to respect their judgment and return the book to the library’s circulating collection.   

In our experience, controversies of this sort are best handled by enriching the array of reading materials available, not restricting them, and by including additional voices and titles rather than suppressing or excluding any.  If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.   


Joan Bertin Chris Finan
Executive Director President
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
William A. Smith Ricci Joy Levy
Vice President for Public Policy Executive Director
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) The Woodhull Freedom Foundation
Dr. Leonore Tiefer Barry W. Lynn
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine Executive Director
  Americans United for Separation of Church and State


» Read local news coverage of the case