NJ Conservatives Stop Orwellian “Freedom To Read Act”. For Now.

Last week, Karyn White, Shawn Hyland, Ethel Hermenau and dozens of other conservatives throughout New Jersey temporarily stopped the Orwellian “Freedom To Read Act”.

This proposed law would have denied elected local school boards the power to decide what books are permitted in school libraries.  Only “woke” agents of New Jersey Governor Murphy would decide.

Karyn White is a Northfield, NJ attorney who specializes in education law. She represents the Pacific Justice Institute.  She explained the proposed law in detail in an opinion column published by the Press of Atlantic City on February 10.  Read excerpts below, and click here for link to full original post.

The “Freedom To Read Act” was quietly introduced by Democratic State Senators Andrew Zwicker, Teresa Ruiz, and Angela McKnight last January 29.  It was given the number Senate Bill 2421 and scheduled to be discussed at a public hearing of the State Senate Education Committee in Trenton last Thursday.  Governor Murphy planned to have Senate Bill 2421 approved by the full Assembly and State Senate and signed into law by the end of the month.

During the past two weeks, Karyn White, Shawn Hyland of the New Jersey Family Policy Center, Galloway Township School Board Member Ethel Hermenau and dozens of others made heroic efforts to warn parents about this dangerous legislation.  They arranged for dozens of parents from around New Jersey to go to Trenton and speak at the hearing.

On the day before the hearing, Senate Bill 2421 was abruptly removed from the agenda. This was a temporary victory, but a victory nonetheless.  Thank you to all who helped!

GUEST COMMENTARY: “Freedom to Read Act” Is Antithesis Of Freedom!”

By Karyn White, Esq.  (Republished from February 10, 2024 Press of Atlantic City)

Karyn L. White

Representatives in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly have recently proposed new legislation entitled the “Freedom to Read Act.” The bill seeks to “establish requirements for library materials in public school libraries” and to protect school “library media specialists against harassment.”

However, what the bill really does is completely remove local control of school libraries from locally elected boards of education. It strips away parents’ and community members’ constitutional right to express dissatisfaction with decisions made by those elected officials.

“No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of schools” — Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 741-42 (1974). Local control maintains and stimulates the interests of parents and the community in their children’s education and provides flexibility in educational programs to meet a particular community’s needs. In New Jersey, the state has supervisory authority, but much of the duty and authority to operate public schools has been delegated to local boards of education. This bill significantly and substantially removes local control from New Jersey boards of education.

Specifically, the bill states that boards of education “shall” adopt a policy on the curation of library materials. The bill mandates “minimum” requirements, but those “minimum requirements” are so exhaustive (and not minimal) that BOEs have no discretion whatsoever in drafting the “mandated” policy.

The bill mandates that a board policy give the school’s “library media specialist” the sole authority to determine what materials are appropriate for the library and at what grades or ages these materials should be available. The bill requires that librarians have absolute legal immunity, civil and criminal, in deciding what materials should be in the library, and prohibits anyone from criticizing the materials chosen by the librarian. Under this bill, if you express disagreement with the librarian’s choices, you are guilty of harassment.

On what basis is this reasonable or lawful?

This bill also obliterates the state’s obscenity statute and allows librarians to decide what is obscene and what is not. If this bill passes, a “library media specialist” in the name of “diversity” can curate library materials that show less than completely covered human genitals, pubic region or buttocks, all in violation of the obscenity statute, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Deciding what library materials will be available to children should be decided within the parameters of the law presently on the books. Equally important, it should be left to the local BOE, with parents and community members having input. Local BOEs and school administrators should be held accountable when the materials they choose are inappropriate or not sufficiently diverse. Parents and community members should not be stripped of their constitutional right to challenge the decisions of their local BOE or school administrators. Deeming such activity “harassment” is a dangerous, slippery slope to eviscerating our constitutional right to free speech.

This bill indefensibly removes this responsibility from local control and places it in the total control of the state. It is a clear attempt to intimidate and stop any parent or community member who may disagree with the materials in the public school library from participating in the educational process. Once again, the State of New Jersey tells its public school parents to be quiet and accept our values, morals, decisions and judgment. The state is in charge of your local school. Just take it, and if you criticize or “harass” anyone about it, you will be found liable for discrimination.

Each BOE must take seriously its responsibility to ensure that all diverse viewpoints are expressed in its library’s materials. Equally important is that all views on how and at what age some topics are presented should be included in the decision-making.

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