Despite board members warning “we’re going too far,” a public school district in Texas banned library books containing the “theory or ideology” of “gender fluidity.”
The board defined “gender fluidity” as an “ideology” to be suppressed.
On November 14, four members of the Keller Independent School District board adopted a policy prohibiting public school libraries — including high school libraries — from keeping books that contain any reference to “gender fluidity,” defined as:
- “any theory or ideology that: (1) espouses the view that gender is merely a social construct; (2) espouses the view that it is possible for a person to be any gender or none (i.e., non-binary) based solely on that person’s feelings or preferences; or (3) supports hormone therapy or other medical treatments or procedures to temporarily or permanently alter a person’s body or genetic make-up so that it ‘matches’ a self-believed gender . . . .”
What’s the effect of the policy?
Under the policy, public high school libraries cannot have books that include any “discussion” of “gender fluidity” on their shelves. (Books that have a “main theme” or “common” depiction of “passionate . . . kissing,” nudity, or “sex scenes or sexual activities,” remain available, however.)
The board adopted the policy despite concerns in order to remove certain “political” books.
- The board members voting in favor of the policy:
- Ignored board members who said they supported already-adopted limits on sexual content in books, but that this was “going too far” and “so far beyond the original intent” of banning material they described as “porn.”
- Ignored a board member’s concerns that the policy could reach content involving gender non-conforming behavior, including the Disney movie Mulan and the story of Revolutionary War hero Deborah Sampson.
- Ignored a board member’s concerns that the policy would limit books available not only at elementary and middle schools, but high schools, as well.
- The board president said on Facebook that because the “State of Texas considers performing gender modification procedures upon minors to be child abuse,” the policy “affirms” Texas law — even though the policy has nothing to do with surgery. During the meeting, he reiterated that “we’re talking about an ideology, a perspective.” Another said discussions about “gender ideologies” do “not belong in the schools.”
- The board president also said the policy was necessary to avoid discussion of “political issues.” But Keller’s public high school libraries still stock plenty of political books, including:
- Donald Trump’s “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”; “10 Christians Everyone Should Know”; “Ronald Reagan: A Graphic Biography”; Scott Adams’ “Win Bigly”; “Understanding Your Right to Bear Arms”; “Ivanka Trump: Entrepreneur and First Daughter”; Hillary Clinton’s “Living History”
- FIRE has issued a public records request for the board members’ communications.
Keller ISD’s Restrictions Violate the First Amendment
- Keller ISD’s new restrictions target a specific understanding of gender for state censorship. That’s viewpoint discrimination, and it violates the First Amendment.
- In his concurring opinion in 1982’s Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, concerning a politically-motivated ban on certain books in public high school libraries, Justice Harry Blackmun made clear that “school officials may not remove books for the purpose of restricting access to the political ideas or social perspectives discussed in them, when that action is motivated simply by the officials’ disapproval of the ideas involved.” But that’s exactly what the Keller ISD school board did last night: prohibiting any “theory or ideology” that promotes a disfavored “view” on a topic of social and political significance.
- The board members in support argued that certain discussions should happen at home, not school. But the existing policy already said that parents “always have the ability to limit their own student’s access to any and all materials in a library” and that libraries are places of “voluntary inquiry.” The new policy, in the name of “parental choice,” takes away choice from those who want to read books — even if their parents approve of the material.
- The school board’s new restrictions teach students precisely the wrong lesson about free speech and the First Amendment. If we want the next generation to value freedom of expression, we have to honor it in our daily practice and demonstrate that views, ideas, theories, and topics that some may find objectionable should be discussed, contested, or ignored — not censored. If we instead act like certain ideas are too unpopular or controversial to remain on library shelves, we’re teaching students that the First Amendment can be ignored when convenient.
- Some will argue that the new restriction isn’t an actual ban because students will be able to access the restricted information elsewhere. That’s a deeply flawed argument for two reasons. First, when the government — here, a public school district’s board — declares that certain books must be removed from library shelves because of the ideas they contain, that’s a ban, plain and simple. Second, the simple truth is that due to lack of internet access, transportation, or financial resources, some students will be unable to safely find discussion of the ideas contained in the prohibited books outside of their high school library.
- Taxpayers pay for students to be educated, not for ideological echo chambers. While local school boards properly exercise considerable authority over school curricular choices, flat-out banning certain politically unpopular ideas from school libraries is a bridge too far.