You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post about book banning. YCRT! features news and opinion roundups, commentary, history, and reviews.

Rather than link to reports of book-banning attempts around the country, as I normally do in these YCRT! posts, I’m going to share my take on one in particular.

YCRT! Rant

373647459_854886749338009_7757852389991342607_nNews stories about raucous school board meetings, the ones where impassioned parents disrupt proceedings by shouting obscene passages from books they want banned, often mention that complaints mostly come from just a few activists — some of whom turn out to be outsiders pretending to be parents. Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where an epidemic of book banning is beginning to look like the work of a single joyful warrior.

Last October in Santa Rosa County, Florida, two citizens showed up at the sheriff’s office. The pair, a woman and a man, accused a school librarian of distributing pornography to minors and demanded her arrest. They brought with them as proof a book that had been checked out by a 17-year-old student — a popular young adult novel titled “Storm and Fury,” a fantasy tale of humans and gargoyles fighting demons.

“I’ve got some evidence a crime was committed,” said the woman to the officer at the front desk. “Pornography given to a minor in a school. And I would like to make a report with somebody and turn over the evidence.”

“The only reason we are here: A crime is being committed. It’s a 3rd-degree felony. And we’ve got the evidence,” said the man, showing the officer a copy of the book. “The governor says this is child pornography. It’s a serious crime. It’s just as serious as if I handed a Playboy to [my child] right now, right here, in front of you. It’s just as serious, according to the law.”

The sheriff, perceiving neither pornography nor crime, took no action, but the exchange between the citizens and the officer on duty was videotaped and soon made the news. An investigative reporter, Judd Legum of Popular Information, an independent news blog, started digging.

The 17-year-old who borrowed the book from the school library was not related to (nor apparently even known by) either of the citizens lodging complaints. She checked the book out at a third party’s behest, unbeknownst to her own parents, and never read it herself. Instead, she handed it over to the third party, a teacher, who gave it to the man and woman who later took it to the sheriff’s office. The man and woman turn out to be members of Moms for Liberty, the group behind book-banning campaigns all over the country, and the teacher … oh, you’ll never guess.

Her name is Vicki Baggett. She’s the Florida teacher and “youth minister” responsible for hundreds of book bannings in the state, and has featured prominently in many of the news stories I highlight in these posts. She does not teach at the 17-year-old’s school, nor does she work in Santa Rosa County. Her targets are primarily books that address racial discrimination or include LGBTQ characters, and several current and former students at her actual school, Northview High in Escambia County, say she openly expresses racist and homophobic beliefs in class, at one point telling her students that it’s “… a sin for races to mix together and that whites are meant to be with whites and blacks are meant to be with blacks.”

Mr. Legum unearthed a paper, email, and social media trail showing that not only does Vicky Baggett vigorously pursue book bans in school districts and counties not her own, when told she cannot legally do so because she’s neither a parent nor a resident of the district, coaxes parents who are to grant her power of attorney to challenge books on their behalf. She’s also engaged in a related fight to sever the relationship between public libraries and the American Library Association, their longstanding professional and trade organization. Here’s a little more about her:

This, folks, is your joyful warrior.

I hope, someday soon, we’ll come to our senses. There’s some evidence from the November elections … the defeat of right-wing candidates trying to take over school boards … that it’s beginning to happen (although not so far in benighted states like Florida and Texas). Reading about Vicki Baggett and the plague of book-banning in Florida, I’m reminded of the Great Illinois Library Purge of the 1950s, where a local sheriff — unlike the one in Florida — did take action against a librarian. That time, a 17-year-old had checked out a pulp novel titled “The Boy Came Back” (link goes to my review) from a rural bookmobile. The resulting scandal eventually led to Illinois and its governor becoming a national and international laughingstock for getting wrapped up in a battle against “communistic smut.”

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