What the parents’ rights argument just doesn’t understand

What the parents’ rights argument just doesn’t understand

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The library, long the definition of a quiet and studious place, has become the battleground for the recent renewal of the moral panic of children being sexualized or indoctrinated by books and schools. It is even being played out in our own communities in Connecticut.

Not surprisingly, the Fairfield Representative Town Meeting members who spoke out against “Let’s Talk About It”

and the state senate candidate who opposed the “banned books” display in Westport were Republicans. They and others argued a variation of “parents’ rights”: that they as parents should be able to decide what books are appropriate for their communities’ young people .

Of course that argument overlooks that many parents — possibly a majority as evidenced by responses to the book challengers’ efforts at recent meetings — support the inclusion of the targeted books in their libraries and children’s right to check them out. Again, the issue here is library books, not curricula or reading lists. We’re also not talking about issues of Hustler or books that would likely meet the legal standard of obscenity, but books that contain themes which some people consider objectionable.

Absent clear consensus that material is actually obscene and has no literary or educational merit, libraries should err on the side of inclusion and let parents be parents. If some do not think that children should read certain books, they should focus on their own.

Parents have considerable rights over their children and their homes. The First Amendment does not forbid parents from regulating what media their children consume in their homes. The Fourth Amendment does not require parents to have probable cause to search backpacks and dresser drawers for drugs and copies of books that contain LGBTQ+ content. You do not owe your child due process and taking away a cellphone is not going to be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Maybe that isn’t optimal parenting, but it isn’t abuse or neglect, either.

Books were never an issue in my home growing up. My mother was a bibliophile and had thousands of books. The copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” that I read came from one of her shelves. Music was a different story. When I was in middle school I wanted to buy a CD that featured a “parental advisory” label. It was “Turn the Radio Off” by Reel Big Fish and we were probably at Caldor’s in Branford (it was the mid-90s, after all). Whether it was the advisory or the cover art, my mom wouldn’t let me buy it that day. She didn’t, however, demand that the store pull all copies or that radio stations not play its songs, although she did exercise control over her car radio. I eventually bought that album and many others on my own.

I want my daughter to enjoy libraries and go to them for information and recreational reading. I also want her to learn about the dangers of censorship. That doesn’t mean that I will never question or criticize what she’s reading, or tell her to save certain things for when she’s older, or talk to her about mature subjects. But those are decisions for me and my wife. Such are parents’ rights and responsibilities.

Chris DeMatteo is a resident of Fairfield and an attorney based in New Haven.

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Jorge Oliveira

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