The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Davis School District after officials told elementary schools in the district to remove a children’s book about a family with same-sex parents from their libraries.
“In Our Mothers’ House” tells the story of children being raised by a lesbian couple. It was added to five of the district’s 50 elementary schools in June 2010 in an effort to foster inclusion after administrators learned that a Windridge Elementary School student was being raised by a lesbian couple, but first sparked controversy in January, when a mother complained to school officials after her kindergarten-age son brought the book home. A petition was circulated that 25 parents signed in protest.
A parent-teacher committee voted 6-1 in April that the book could remain in library collections, but should be kept behind the counter instead of on shelves. They claimed the book didn’t comply with state law barring homosexual advocacy in the school curriculum, amounting to “advocacy of homosexuality” and “normalizes a lifestyle that we don’t agree with.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tina Weber, a mother whose children attend one of the schools where the book was restricted. Weber said in a statement that while parents have the right to limit what their children read, they should not have authority over what library books are available to others.
“Our job as parents is to make sure we teach our children about our values,” she said. “We can do that without imposing our personal views on the rest of the school community.”
Davis spokesperson Chris Williams told the Salt Lake Tribune that the district stands behind its decision to require students to have parental permission to check out the book.
“I would say the district still feels comfortable with the process it undertook and at no time has any parent’s rights been curtailed,” Williams said. “Parents still have the opportunity to have their children read the book.”
In a June letter, The Alliance Defense Fund expressed support for the school district, emphasizing that administrators had not physically removed the book, only required parental consent to read it.
“The District is right to leave such decisions to them,” the ADF wrote in the letter. “It is ‘established beyond debate’ that ‘parents have the primary role…in the upbringing of their children.’”
But the lawsuit claims that the First Amendment prohibits schools from removing books from libraries because officials or parents disagree with the materials:
Removing library books because they “normalize a lifestyle that parents don’t agree with” or contain positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists violates the First Amendment rights of all students to access ideas in a school library on a viewpoint-neutral basis.
The school has argued that it can avoid the requirements of the First Amendment by allowing students to check out the book on an individualized basis with written parental permission. But putting a library book behind the desk can be just as harmful as removing it entirely. Not only does the restriction make it more difficult for students to access the book, but it also stigmatizes the book as something dirty or shameful.