Far-right social conservatives are attacking sex education material as ‘child pornography’: report

Far-right social conservatives are attacking sex education material as ‘child pornography’: report
A book burning in 2008, Wikimedia Commons

For decades, far-right Christian fundamentalists have been blaming sex education for teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and sexually transmitted diseases — ignoring the fact that European countries with comprehensive sex education tend to have fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions than the United States. Now, according to the Daily Beast's Will Sommer, social conservatives have a new tactic: equating sex education material with child pornography and threatening teachers and librarians with child porn charges.

Sommer, in an article published this week, cites Hudson, Ohio Mayor Craig Shubert, a Republican, as an example of a social conservative who resorted to that tactic.

"As the mayor of Hudson, Ohio, Craig Shubert doesn't have the power to prosecute anybody," Sommer explains. "But that didn't stop him from delivering a hefty ultimatum to school board members at a September 13 meeting: either they could resign en masse, or they could all face child pornography charges."

Of course, no members of the Hudson Board of Education were distributing child pornography. Shubert, rather, objected to "642 Things to Write About," described by Sommer as "a book of writing prompts distributed to some Hudson high school students in a college-level course that required a parental permission slip."

On September 13, Shubert told Hudson School Board members, "It has come to my attention that your educators are distributing essentially what is child pornography in the classroom…. So, I'm going to give you a simple choice. You either choose to resign from this board of education, or you will be charged."

Sommer describes "Shubert's threat" an example of "a worrying new trend: attempts to have librarians or school board officials criminally prosecuted because of books some parents deem inappropriate."

"The threat of prosecution over book controversies isn't limited to Ohio," Sommer notes. "In Wyoming's conservative Campbell County, prosecutors are weighing charges against librarians because of a criminal complaint over sex education and LGBT-related books stocked in sections for children or young adults, the Associated Press reported on Friday. The list of challenged books, which include a children's book called 'How Do You Make a Baby?' and a book aimed at teenagers called 'Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy,' prompted a complaint to a local sheriff's department."

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who heads the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Beast, "We're just deeply concerned about this effort to prosecute librarians and educators for providing constitutionally protected mainstream materials."

The Daily Beast also interviewed Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education for PEN America. Friedman told the Beast, "What's new is the notion of calling police, and police responding to it as though it was indeed something we might consider prosecuting librarians over…. This idea that a library should function only to cater to the preferences of one contingent in society is of course anathema to the whole notion of a public library,"

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