May 17, 2023
The ACLU and GLAD are urging Maine’s public school leaders to protect students’ rights and inclusive learning environments
The ACLU of Maine and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) today sent a letter to Maine’s public school leaders demanding they uphold their own legal obligations and students’ First Amendment rights by stopping efforts to ban and censor books.
People in several communities and some lawmakers have called on schools to ban books, most frequently targeting stories of LGBTQ people and people of color. The open letter comes after the ACLU of Maine wrote individually to several Maine districts considering book bans over the past months.
Removing books from public school libraries simply because some people may disagree with their content threatens critical legal protections. Students have the right to equal educational opportunity and a First Amendment right to speak and receive information freely. The United States Supreme Court held over 40 years ago in Board of Education v. Pico that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”
“The organized national campaign to ban books featuring people of color and LGBTQ people has been exported to Maine,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies at GLAD. “All students, including LGBTQ students and those whose races and ethnicities are smaller minorities in our communities, also need and deserve to learn in an environment that accepts and reflects who they are. This is why our laws protect students’ rights to access books in which they can see themselves, understand their history, and engage critically with the world around them.”
Access to books about LGBTQ people and people of color creates a more inclusive and supportive environment for students who see their own history and experiences reflected in those books. It also provides important opportunities for students to learn about experiences that differ from their own.
“Debates over whether to allow students to access specific books lose sight of one of public schools’ most fundamental roles: to teach young people to think for themselves,” said ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan. “Students are better prepared to join and lead our society when they can access information from an array of viewpoints and freely exchange ideas. When politicians attempt to sanitize and whitewash our places of learning, students lose the opportunity to understand the world around them and draw their own conclusions.”
The letter notes that “when books are removed because community members disagree with the author’s message or point of view, that paves the way for an unending series of attempts to deny all children access to information based on personal views about what is objectionable for some children. Schools are too important to children’s development and the future of our country to become an arena for political intolerance.”
The letter asks “school board members, superintendents, and librarians to take a stand against censorship and protect student access to an equal and safe educational environment by resisting calls to remove books from school libraries.”