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Restricting access, not book banning

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” — attributed to Mark Twain, who himself attributed it to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

The two letters to the editor in The Courier News contained no statistics, so let us see what conclusions are logical in assessing them.

The two inputs were titled “Defending Our Right to Read” and “To Me, That Is Freedom.” Interestingly, neither piece dwelt on to whom the “Right to Read” or the aforementioned “Freedom” applied. Was it the “right for a 12-year-old to read road signs” as he or she drove an automobile? Was it the “freedom” of an 8- year-old to decide to go to school or not? Obviously, there are certain restrictions that apply to minors that are not applicable to adults.

Both of these letters pontificated about “banning books from libraries.” However, in so doing, they deliberately omitted the most important part of the situation.

The “banning” to which the authors referred was really about restricting access to obscene materials inappropriate or harmful for minors. It was never about “banning” any books for adults, despite inflammatory and deceptive rhetoric.

Perhaps, a couple of direct quotes from the Tennessee Code are appropriate at this point. T.C.A. § 39-17-902:

(e)(1) It is an exception to this section that the obscene material is possessed by a person having scientific, educational, governmental or other similar justification.

(e)(2) — The educational justification exception established in subdivision (e)(1) does not apply if the obscene material is possessed by a person with the intent to send, sell, distribute, exhibit, or display the material to a minor. [emphasis added]

Therefore, the question becomes were the editorial authors, in fact, advocating against the law for making obscene and harmful material available to minors in libraries without restriction? Alternatively, perhaps, they were arrogantly asserting that their definition of what is too obscene or harmful for a minor is superior [to] any other regardless of what a majority of the community decides.

Let us, however, disregard the inflammatory rhetoric and “cut to the chase,” as the saying goes. Many Anderson County citizens have objected to having certain materials, obscene in their opinion, unrestrictedly available to minors in libraries. Some other Anderson County citizens are apparently advocating for few, if any, restrictions on what obscene materials can be available to minors.

Who should decide? An unelected, unaccountable librarian? A board of a few citizens who usually meet without a live audience or video streaming for the public to view? A county commission or city council? A judge after an expensive court action? If there is a possibility a child could be harmfully exposed to obscene materials, the old Hippocratic Oath may be the best path: “First, do no harm.”

Rep. John Ragan, Dist. 33

TN House of Representatives