In dozens of states across the nation efforts are underway to influence, even intimidate, school board members to restrict what can be taught, and what library books can be available, to public school students.

In South Carolina, for example, school boards are considering proposals to ban a long list of books from school libraries because of parental objections to their content, whether it involves the discussion of sexual identity, racial disparities, or other "controversial" topics. In Horry County, home to the resort community of Myrtle Beach, the county school board meets January 23 to consider such requests involving some 77 books.

Behind the drive to restrict library books and subjects that can be taught are activist conservatives, including Moms for Liberty, which says it "is dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government."

"This is a very small, radical faction," says Josh Malkin, legislative advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in South Carolina. "Polling shows that folks on both sides of the aisle see book bans for what they are: a very dangerous attack on one of the core values of American democracy. This is not Democratic, it's not Republican, it's not conservative, it's not progressive. This is radical. This is authoritarian, and this is dangerous."

Show Notes

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Show Transcript

Josh, thanks for joining us on Lean to the Left. Appreciate it, pal. 

[00:00:50] Josh Malkin: Thanks for having me, Bob. 

[00:00:51] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Hey, fill me in a little bit on what's going on here in South Carolina with respect to this, these efforts to ban books in school libraries.

[00:01:04] Josh Malkin: Yeah, there's been like an exponential rise in these demands for bans all over the state. And they take different flavors. You have the explicitly racist and explicitly queer phobic demands, and then you have the savvier call for these books with, inappropriate content to be pulled.

[00:01:25] So these are not, locally initiated efforts. These are nationally manufactured lists. , there's a site called Book Looks, which makes it extremely easy for folks to just find objectionable passages in a book. And then they'll go to their school board say, can you believe that this passage is on the library shelves?

[00:01:46] And increasingly make threatening calls to school board members demanding that books be removed from library shelves. 

[00:01:53] Bob Gatty: Oh man. Alright, so I saw that. Local TV station here in, in South Carolina published a, lengthy list of some, 77 books that they considered to be objectionable and that they want pulled out of schools, school, libraries.

[00:02:27] Josh Malkin: Yep. 

[00:02:28] Bob Gatty: Are these books that that deal with sexual issues? Or or, what why, are these books on the list? .

[00:02:41] Josh Malkin: I wish I had the time in the day to, to read all the books that folks are making sweeping demands be removed. I, think some of these books do have, graphic content and a few things there.

[00:02:56] Sexuality and sexual violence are unfortunately a, an inherent part of adolescent life. Wow. And removing books with such content does not change that fact and just restricts access to information that will allow adolescents to have healthier relationships, healthier sexual relationships, healthier romantic relationships.

[00:03:17] And then I'll also say we have experts. Librarians are experts. School librarians have one or two master's degrees. It's not like folks aren't being thoughtful when they're purchasing or placing books. Not only are folks being thoughtful, but it's the folks that are experts.. I recently heard a clip saying that every parent is the expert on their child.

[00:03:41] Hey, no argument here. But those parents are not the experts on literary value. They're not the experts on public health. They're not the experts on teaching history, right? So if we wanna. Call things what they are. Yes. If a parent wants to restrict their own child's access to information, I think that can be dangerous.

[00:04:01] But that parent always has that, right? It's this imperative that folks are now increasingly feeling that they should be able to control what other people's children have access to. That is really frightening. 

[00:04:14] Bob Gatty: Yeah. It's the heavy hand of ultra conservatism, I guess is what's going on here.

[00:04:25] Josh Malkin: Yeah that's the thing I this is a very small, radical faction. Polling shows that folks on both sides of the aisle see book bands for what they are. A very dangerous attack on one of the core values of American democracy. This is not democratic, it's not Republican, it's not conservative, it's not progressive.

[00:04:46] This is radical. This is authoritarian, and this is dangerous. 

[00:04:51] Bob Gatty: Yeah. The, members of the school board that listen to this stuff are they just capitulating to this small but vocal group of people? Are there others who are countering their demands and standing up for the right of, students to be free to read what they need to read.

[00:05:19] Yeah. I love 

[00:05:20] Josh Malkin: that framing of that question. The freedom to Read SC Coalition is the A C L U and 20 other nonpartisan organizations across the state and the coalition exists to support folks in their communities as they fight back. And where folks are fighting back, where folks are letting school boards know that the other side is not the only perspective.

[00:05:41] We are seeing some suc success in keeping books on shelves. What I will say is the only one side of this argument. , as far as I know, is calling school board members and threatening that they're gonna have them arrested. So when you try to be the voice of reason in the room, when you try to stand up for the majority of students in South Carolina, but you're you're up against folks calling and threatening folks saying they're gonna arrest them.

[00:06:05] There's I don't know how to counter that. I, refuse to use tactics like that. I just want school board members to know that they have community support in, in defending the freedom to read.. 

[00:06:17] Bob Gatty: That's incredible. They're threatening school board members with being arrested. 

[00:06:24] Josh Malkin: They fixated on this law distributing obscene materials to children.

[00:06:30] I'll, tell you, the police have been to Greenville public Libraries twice to investigate claims of pornography. And they get there and they say, what are we doing here? So then you get into the idea of now we're just misusing emergency services, right? Like police have no business being in a library.

[00:06:47] And folks thinking that's an okay of, taxpayer money and, policeman's valuable time is again just like another illumination of how absurd and dangerous these, folks are. 

[00:07:00] Bob Gatty: That's incredible. Now, what do you know about what's going on in other areas of the country with respect to this, Josh?

[00:07:10] Yeah, 

[00:07:10] Josh Malkin: This is not unique to South Carolina. Moms for Liberty was founded in Florida. They now have chapters across the nation, and they're manufacturing and initiating a lot of these fights. and we are seeing libraries get defunded.


[00:07:48] So we, haven't seen the worst of it yet in South Carolina. Again this is such a, steep, slippery and scary slope to be on. 

[00:07:58] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Is it just school libraries or are other public libraries in the mix here? 

[00:08:06] Josh Malkin: No public libraries in the mix as well. Public libraries have a little more legal protection and, generally their policies are a little more protective.

[00:08:17] But in the upstate there have been calls to restrict access to books with LGBTQ characters. There are reports of library administrators, sort of self-censoring books outside of official policy. Unfortunately you've had these radical groups infiltrate a lot of school boards.

[00:08:34] They ran for school boards and, won a lot of seats. And we don't have that same sort of infiltration with public libraries yet. 

[00:08:42] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Okay. Now this isn't the only fight that you've got going on here, right? 

[00:08:51] Josh Malkin: No, certainly not, no no shortage of work to be done. 

[00:08:56] Bob Gatty: Now you were talking about C R T before.

[00:08:59] Josh Malkin: Yeah. Yep. The fight against quote unquote critical race theory has a little more popular support than the fight against book bans. I like to keep them separate cause the, politics and the law are a little bit different, but yeah, the accurate teaching of American history discussion of systemic racism.

[00:09:20] Folks are certainly looking. to chill that in a, again, just like it's, scary, right? So it's not acknowledging or telling children about systemic racism certainly does not prevent it from existing. And the fact it just makes it all the harder for the next generation of leaders to work together to, to solve problems and actually strive towards a more equal society.

[00:09:44] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Now there's a school board meeting Horry County School Board meeting coming up in January. Is this going to be on the agenda, the book banning? 

[00:09:58] Josh Malkin: Yeah, I believe so. I think that list has been submitted to school board members. I would imagine the banners will be in the room to talk about the dangers of books.

[00:10:07] So I, yeah, I imagine in, some form or fashion it will be.

[00:10:12] Bob Gatty: Do you know whether people on, the other side will be there to to counter those arguments? 

[00:10:22] Josh Malkin: I'm hoping so I know there are concerned parents and concerned citizens and already worried about this authoritarian reach into the free marketplace of ideas and, their children being able to access information.

[00:10:35] So yeah I'm, hoping there will school board members be able to hear both perspectives. 

[00:10:40] Bob Gatty: Josh what are the long-term, broader implications of this effort to ban specific books from school libraries and even public libraries. 

[00:10:57] Josh Malkin: Yeah I think we, this radical faction is, really believes that their narrow set of ideological beliefs are all that anyone should have access to. So they they don't like certain history, so they're gonna try to remove it from schools. They don't like the content in certain books, so they're gonna try to remove it from all children. When you think about how both, sides of the political isle rely on constitutional protections. This group is just completely ignoring and trying to erode them. Our our country is built on the, exchange, the free exchange of ideas and just trying to remove ideas that folks disagree with. I, scary, dangerous, I. I, I think they're they're only gonna get emboldened as, they get more and more perceived wins.

[00:11:49] These are the same folks attacking trans children. The same folks saying that racism doesn't exist. It's, terrifying. 

[00:11:59] Bob Gatty: Yeah. If I was a child or if, I had a child who was In a situation where he or she was questioning his sexuality and, all, and was looking for resources, for information to, to have the, school library, which is a major resource for them not be able to provide reading material that might be helpful. That's a bad thing. 

[00:12:39] Josh Malkin: Yeah. And it's really tragic, and Buford, on Tuesday night of high school students spoke out about her, brother's experience with, drug use, right? And she said taking information like that off of library shelves is dangerous because that information those, what those characters go through, illuminates how drugs can be dangerous and, that kind of thing is being targeted, right?

[00:13:06] They're sexual content is certainly targeted, but drug use mental health issues, like it, it's, they're tar whatever they want, they're coming for whatever they want. 

[00:13:16] Bob Gatty: Why I don't understand. I can understand why they might focus on issues involving sexuality or sexual identity, I can understand that. But, to remove, but try to remove information, valid information about drug use, the dangers of drug use and, that kind of thing. That's, just stupid. 

[00:13:48] Josh Malkin: Yeah. I, personally don't understand any of it. I think that, again, added to the, bucket of these attacks is the parental rights, right? That every parent should have the right to control everything for all children. And again, I think it's dangerous for any parent to say human sexuality, diversity and human sexuality doesn't exist.

[00:14:09] Or that diversity and gender identity doesn't exist because your child could be going through something and your refusal to acknowledge that exists. Think about the psychological anguish that can cause your child, but I, get that parents have control over what their own children can access. But again, this idea that you can suppress information for other children, for other parents', children.

[00:14:32] I just don't know. I don't know how you, justify that ever. 

[00:14:35] Bob Gatty: Yeah. Okay. All right. Is there anything else we need to talk about? 

[00:14:41] Josh Malkin: Folks in Horry we now know this is in your backyard. Please know that there, there are efforts to fight back. We're not gonna let this go down without a fight.

[00:14:51] If you'd like to get involved with the initiative, the community fighting back in work. 



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