On Nov. 28, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted to establish a censorship panel for the Fresno County Library system. An 11-member panel, with two members appointed by each supervisor and one by the County Administrative Office, is empowered to review all books currently in the Children’s Sections of libraries within the Fresno County Library System, as well as new acquisitions. They will determine whether books will remain freely accessible or be removed.
Supervisor Steve Brandau brought this resolution, absurdly named Parents Matter, to the BOS initially at its Nov. 7 meeting. Some changes were made to his original proposal. The amendments included posting a list of censored books and creating an “appeal process.” The so-called appeal process is right back to the original censorship board!
This panel has no requirements for membership other than residence in the district of the appointing supervisor. Members will not be required to have any background or experience in library services, literature or child development. They don’t have to be parents. In fact, there is no requirement that members of this panel even know how to read.
Initially, the plan was to place this measure on the consent agenda, where formula stuff like minutes of the last meeting are approved without discussion and by consensus without a vote on each item. However, Supervisor Sal Quintero moved this item onto the regular agenda so that there could be public discussion and a measure-specific vote.
A large number of members of the public passed through metal detectors and swarms of armed police to be present at this meeting and express their opinions. All who had a chance to speak spoke against the measure, except Clovis City Council Member Diane Pearce, who said she represented hundreds of people.
Some spoke from the basis of law and principle, citing the obvious conflicts with First Amendment rights. Some spoke from personal experience, with moving accounts of how books dealing with diversity were important and how their removal would be harmful.
It is no secret—one can check the American Library Association list of books most often banned in the United States—that non-white experience and history, as well as sexual diversity, are behind most decisions to censor. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison top the list of banned books.
Supervisors Quintero and Brian Pacheco voted against the censorship measure, while Supervisors Brandau, Nathan Magsig and Buddy Mendes voted in favor of a censorship board. See you in court, fellas, as well as at the polls. What did County Counsel Daniel C. Cederborg advise them about the legality of this measure?
If the BOS does manage to set up this board before the court declares it in violation of First Amendment rights, we need to take full advantage of our Brown Act (Sunshine Act) freedoms. The meetings of the censorship board must have public notification and be open to the public. So all should participate and publicize the meetings. Let the sun shine.
The pre-censorship of library materials by political appointees is a violation of the rights of free speech and expression, First Amendment rights that should be upheld, not threatened, by the BOS, in this case clearly working from a basis of perfect ignorance.
When Brandau was asked by ABC30 news reporter Kate Nemarich, “How often did you say you visited the library?,” he replied, “Oh, I visited the library years ago. I haven’t been to the library in years, but all of those questions and those answers, they’re meaningless.”
Parents have the right to choose the books their own children read. No one has the right to censor the reading of others, or of the children of others.
The creation of the censorship board for our libraries is an egregious overstepping of boundaries for the BOS. It is such a clear violation of our rights that it is almost irrelevant that there are no qualifications listed for appointment to the censorship board. There is no legitimate role for political-hack censors in our libraries.