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Opinion | Library de-funders want to control all children

Library de-funders are not here to empower all parents; they only want to empower those who think like them.

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Across the nation, far-right-wing activist organizations and some Republican lawmakers are aggressively threatening to defund public libraries to force the removal of access to books primarily centering on race, racism, sexuality and gender identity.

In Alabama, the Autauga-Prattville Public Library is seen as ground zero for attacks on public libraries. Still, the menace is growing with State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, warning libraries would face defunding if they didn’t remove “porn” from their shelves.

When Orr claims there is porn readily available to children at public libraries, it is difficult to tell whether he suffers folie à deux with de-funders or if delusions of grandeur drive him to be the first to embrace radical ideas outside the mainstream.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation, Orr exercises outsized power in the Alabama Senate. He has amassed even more political control over the body’s legislative agenda with a newly created private slush fund.

Orr craves the celebrity of his public office while ignoring the fundamental restraint of responsible governing. Rather than becoming a champion of a better Alabama, Orr has latched on to every outlandish idea of the far-right and, in doing so, has become a caricature of what is wrong with the Heart of Dixie.

Orr has joined a small group of zealots who, in the name of “protecting the children,” want to drive the history and lives of the long-oppressed and marginalized from the public square. These cosplay holy warriors wish to shape the world into their narrow idea of what is good and proper by denying the humanity of others and eliminating freedom of thought and expression.

Make no mistake, these feudal lords of morality are the minority and do not represent the vast majority of the state or nation.

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A CBS poll in May found “book bans over topics of race and history are really unpopular across party lines, with big majorities of Republicans opposed,” the survey concluded. This includes books about “race, or slavery; or criticizes U.S. history.”

Defunding public libraries over what books they offer to children and young adults is not an idea shared by most individuals; it is, however, embraced by an overly loud few who would strip Alabamians of any right or freedom they deem offensive.

Historians generally agree that Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the first book widely banned in the United States. It was banned in the South in 1852 because it promoted abolitionist ideas and generated discussion about slavery.

According to a report by the University of Alabama Institute for Human Rights after the Civil War, “The Southern United States restricted access to textbooks that painted the South’s intentions and actions poorly amid the Civil War. An advocacy group in the South referred to as The United Daughters of the Confederacy felt that the control of what information their children were learning during school was beholden to the rights of parents.”

A claim of “Rights of parents” is always at the center of every effort to censor learning. It’s an old, tired trope but effective when accompanied by fear and religion.

What is happening in Prattville, where a so-called spontaneous parents’ movement, now organized as Clean up Prattville, is working to remove access to books in the children and young adult section of the library, is a cancer that is metastasizing around the state.

These are not a majority of Alabamians. Their numbers are literally in the tens, not thousands. But they want to raise fear in some politicians, goad the ignorant and inspire the opportunists.

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In a Clean up Prattville newsletter, the group used a Nazi quote: “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” When any group or movement embraces Nazi philosophy as a guiding principle, it is a sure sign their deeds are dangerous.

The goal of those who want to restrict access to learning are not concerned about books. It is about control. In this instance, it is about who will determine how the youth of tomorrow views social justice, our shared humanity and the meaning of freedom.

There is an old tale where a genie appeared to a prideful, angry, grievance-driven man in a far-off country and offered to grant him one wish. The catch the genie said, was whatever the man wished for — everyone else in the kingdom would receive double. The man thought, saying, “Make me blind in one eye.”

Those who would distort and destroy knowledge by limiting books understand in the land of the blind; a one-eyed man is king.

Those who value learning and genuinely care about children’s futures understand these extremists want a world in which they alone dictate how children are raised. They are not here to empower all parents; they only want to empower those who think like them.

These latter-day barbarians are not at the gate. Thanks to lawmakers like Orr, they are already inside the Statehouse.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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