Challenge to Jodi Picoult Book Struck Down in Pennsylvania

Earlier this week, the Kennett Consolidated School District school board in Pennsylvania protected the freedom to read by voting 7 -1 to keep Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes on shelves in the high school library.

Picoult’s widely-prasied book focuses on a school shooting and the events leading up to the shooting, including date rape and bullying. Nineteen Minutes has been challenged several times before — most recently, we covered the irony-riddled tale of a would-be censor who argued that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested for disrupting a New Hampshire school board meeting with an out-of-order protest to the book.

Parent Angela John raised concerns over the rape scene and language in the book, arguing it was inappropriate for high schoolers. An internal review board was convened, and the board unanimously approved the book, but the dissatisfied parent appealed the decision to the district school board.

The decision was made on the eve of Veteran’s Day, and one board member’s comments reflected the holiday’s proximity:

Fellow board member Rudy Alfonso, a Navy veteran, said: “Banning this book, to me, would almost be like turning my back on all those hundreds of thousands of American veterans, men and women, who died to allow us to keep those freedoms and not to have censorship. I see this attempt to ban this book as if we live in Nazi Germany. This is the United States of America. The Statue of Liberty rings for everyone.”

One member of the school board was not so protective of the right to read, allowing his opinion to override the First Amendment and decades of case law. From Southern Chester County Weekly:

“The language was gratuitous,” [board vice president Doug] Stirling said as his rationale for his vote to ban the book. “If you take every foul word out of that book, it won’t change the story one iota. I thought with the filthy language and the graphic depiction of the rape scene that it was not appropriate for minors. Seventy-five percent of our students are minors. That was the reason. Everybody has their own opinion. That’s how I felt, and that’s the way I voted.”

Fortunately, Stirling’s board colleagues soundly outvoted him and voted in favor of the right to read in decided to keep Nineteen Minutes on library shelves.

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