CBLDF has joined a coalition led by the National Coalition Against Censorship in opposing the implementation of a bill going before the Virginia legislature that would require public schools to notify parents of “sexually explicit content” and “relies on a standard that is both over-inclusive and vague…. titles as varied, valuable, and time-honored as Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and most works by William Shakespeare could be flagged.”
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
House Bill 516 stems from parent Laura Murphy’s 2013 attempt to ban Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved from her son’s AP English class in Fairfax County, Virginia, after her son complained of nightmares. Although a 6-2 vote kept Beloved in the AP English curriculum, the controversy escalated to the legislature. The resulting bill crafted by House Speaker William J. Howell and Delegate Steven Landes is not an acceptable alternative for handling “controversial” books in Virginia schools because it invites challenges and could encourage schools to avoid some materials because they have the potential to incite controversy.
In response to the bill proposal, NCAC has submitted a letter to the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health urging the committee to see the threat that the bill poses not only to First Amendment principles, but also to students’ education. As NCAC points out in their letter:
We believe that such legislation would invite divisive challenges to educationally valuable material, interfere with teachers’ ability to teach effectively, and implicitly encourage schools to avoid such material simply because it might elicit objections. The result would be to undermine the quality of public education in Virginia and possibly to expose school districts to liability for violating the First Amendment.
Parents have a right to determine what their children read, but NCAC points out that HB516 isn’t a productive solution, noting that “HB516 is likely to generate continuing controversy; it takes only one person to file a challenge and launch a protracted battle that can disrupt an entire school system and divide a community.” Further, NCAC argues, “By inviting parents to opt our of particular assignments, HB516 raises the potential for multiple different assigned materials in a single classroom, impeding teachers’ efforts to foster discussion while imposing on them an unnecessary administrative burden.”
The bill, which has already moved through several House and Senate subcommittees, is currently being reviewed by the Public Education Subcommittee. In light of this progress, NCAC and other free speech advocates urge the Virginia Senate Committee to see the constitutional and educational concerns this bill raises.
NCAC’s letter to the Virginia Senate Committee follows in its entirety.