Comparing the current climate around book bannings to 9/11, Idaho State Representative Heather Scott introduced a workshop called “How to remove inappropriate materials from our schools/libraries” co-sponsored with Amy Henry, founder of Parents for Freedom and Liberty. The event, advertised through the official Idaho state legislature dispatch, called it a a way to learn what to do about “smut in our Idaho libraries.”
In her opening remarks, Scott called for people to band together like they did in post-9/11 America in order to take back libraries. “The war is also demonstrated by non-gendered bathrooms, drag queen storytime, use of hormone blockers, and boys with ear piercings and painted fingernails,” she said, mentioning that after abortion, the rise of “smut in the library” was the most disturbing thing she’s seen in eight years as a legislator.
Henry, a former public school math teacher in the Treasure Valley, explained that everything happening right now is indoctrination. Everything stems from social emotional learning (SEL), critical race theory (CRT), and equity diversity and inclusion (EDI). Henry links the $440 million dollars Idaho received in the first round of emergency relief funding during COVID to requirements for schools to implement SEL and DEI initiatives.
She goes on to further claim both the National Education Association and the Idaho Educational Association teacher unions are pressuring educators to follow these agendas, which encourage bullying and revoke the right for individuals to think for themselves.
All day kindergarten, she believes, is a plot for the government to begin indoctrinating children as young as 5 years old.
As outrageous as these statements sound, these are the talking points being made by book banners across the country. Thanks to propaganda through films, through conservative news, and social media groups spearheaded by groups like Moms for Liberty and similar (such as Henry’s own Parents for Freedom and Liberty), censors believe that public schools–what they call government schools, both a nod to Trump’s language about educational institutions and to the history of the real brutal government schools throughout the US and Canada–are indoctrinating children. That indoctrination begins with a foundation in marxism and includes SEL, CRT, and DEI, in addition to comprehensive sex education.
Their current target of ire is the CDC’s “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” model. They believe the CDC is encouraging schools to teach children about difference in gender and race to bring in more money for its own programs and purposes. School counselors are encouraging young people to change genders and undergo hormone therapy, and that groups like the CDC are funding this initiative. Scott points out that all-day kindergarten is a convenient way to push such indoctrination and that federal funding for after school programs furthers that agenda. She believes that what began as STEM programming evolved into STEAM programming so that Art could create an umbrella category to include equity clubs, including LGBTQ groups.
Scott continued the discussion with reminding attendees about an incident in Coeur d’Alene, mentioning that the person who shot a reverend there had been practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness, she says, is part of SEL.
Earlier this year, Idaho’s House Bill 666 went to the senate, where no action has been taken, as senators saw it as “mischief.” The bill, sponsored by Representative Gayann DeMordaunt (R), claimed it was a necessary way to protect the state’s children from what she claims are obscene and pornographic books in libraries across the state. Scott noted that the Idaho Public Library association, who opposed the bill, wrote a letter explaining that HB 666 would put librarians at legal risk and at risk for steep financial penalties, something she claims proves that they have something to hide.
She went on to highlight how the American Library Association (ALA) is further encouraging this indoctrination, citing a story about a librarian in southern Idaho who attended the recent Public Library Association conference in Portland, Oregon, this spring but was afraid to attend the current event because of how it might make her look professionally.
“Idaho libraries play to be members of PLA and ALA or ILA, and they are entitled to legal representation as a result,” said Scott of what that librarian told her. “One of the main goals is to queer the library (the new president of ALA is a Marxist lesbian). They advise us to remove gendered bathrooms. One speaker said that when a book is challenged you should complicate the conversation and obfuscate to confuse the person challenging the books. They encourage diversity audits and with a goal to have 50% of our materials diverse/LGBTQ. They systematically weed libraries of normative content. They encouraged self-criticism and told us to out other employees at work.”
Scott then stated bluntly that it was time to pull Idaho libraries out of the ALA. This would require electing a superintendent of education willing to do just that.
Here’s a snapshot of Scott’s proposed actions for organizing and removing books across the state:
- Find a person in your county to take the lead
- Form a group of concerned citizens that meet regularly
- Identify every library in your county including school libraries and find out how they are funded. Many are funded through taxing districts. Find out if the Trustees are elected or appointed. Elected officials are far more trustworthy than bureaucrats. Request a line item budget from the county clerk to find out where money is coming from and where it is going. Look at the library’s memberships in organizations like ALA.
- Follow your library’s events – many events are coordinated statewide and nationally. This includes displays. Libraries get a list of displays to do each month from ALA and that way they don’t have to think about their own displays and do their job. Ask if you can put up the displays in the windows instead.
- Attend library board meetings
- Run for office
- Talk to the head librarian and look at the books. Coeur d’Alene group identified 150 books and they started checking them out to keep them out of the hands of kids (an audience member interjected that they have found out that having the books checked out means they are popular and the library will order more so they are rethinking that strategy). You must challenge the books. Figure out the rules of doing a challenge.
- Determine when story reading times are and ask who reads and how they pick the books. Have your church volunteer to do the readings.
- Read SMUT aloud in board meetings.
- Go after their bonds – Bonds for the Win in Idaho – will help you do this
- Elections matter so be sure to vote for those who support your values
Harris weighed in too, offering the following suggestions:
- You have to identify the books in your library that are objectionable
- Laverna in the Library is a group out of Utah that has started lists of bad books that you can start with
- You can look for books in your area through GoFollett or using your library catalog
- Most librarians are liberal so don’t expect any empathy from them
- Libraries and museums can do pretty much whatever they want, they are choosing to have the books there because of a nationwide agenda
- We are asking libraries to put identification stickers on books but honestly it’s not enough – the books just need to be removed
- A note about in loco parentis – libraries and schools believe this means that when a child steps through their doors, they have control of the child
- Don’t sign school handbooks, especially electronically – they will change the handbooks after you have signed. Always ask for a hard copy
- Public schools are government schools with a government agenda. It is child abuse to have your children in these schools
It comes as little surprise to see the last point, especially as much of the push for book bans has an end goal of dismantling public education. Parents are encouraged to pull their kids from public schools and enroll them in either homeschools or private, right-wing funded institutions.
“This is a fight to change our culture, to give Satan control of our children,” said Scott in her closing remarks. She encouraged attendees to go to her website and explore the “smut” currently available in libraries. “We are at war.”
Whether you’re in Idaho or not, it’s vital to understand that the fight for the freedom to read and access books is not happening in a vacuum. This is one branch of a big tree growing under the work of dark money and dark politics, particularly those on the far right. In this instance, a state representative is encouraging citizens to disregard the First Amendment and doing so not only with her professional credentials behind her, but through the state’s legislative communication itself. She’s working on a singular agenda, rooted in Christian fundamentalism, and she’s firing up supporters in state and beyond to forge ahead on what they believe is a necessary crusade.
It is impossible to overstate that this is not about the books. The books are one of the tools right now, but this has been bubbling for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, as more educators and library workers call it quits for a variety of reasons, including poor pay, unsatisfactory work conditions, and harassment, these groups will succeed in their big campaign of killing public eduction.
Educators and librarians in Idaho and across the country need to amp up their efforts to push back. This will require updating policies about book challenges, speaking up and out to the media about what’s happening, and finding local supporters to help amplify the mission of these public institutions: to serve an entire community.
For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you may want to use FOIA to uncover book challenges.