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SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE Is a Must-Watch to Understand Today’s Book Ban Movement: Book Censorship News, June 9, 2023

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

If you’ve been on social media over the last week, chances are you’ve seen the Shiny Happy People documentary series trending. Whether you have seen that, ignored that, or did not know about it at all until this moment, this Amazon Prime limited docuseries is a must-view in order to understand the roots of today’s book censorship movement.

Ostensibly an expose about the Duggar family, the series is much more than a story of the family. It is a look inside one of the most dangerous Christian fundamentalist movements in the country, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBPL), spearheaded by Bill Gothard. Over the course of the series, viewers are given an insider look into the lies being consumed as “truth” throughout far-right Christianity and its affiliated homeschools. Gothard, currently 88, stepped down from the institution he founded in 2014 following accusations from women in the church that he perpetrated rampant sexual abuse. He is among several well-known names within IBPL who have been accused of or charged with sexual abuse, including Josh Duggar, eldest child of the Duggar clan.

This is a theme throughout Shiny Happy People. Gothard’s teachings note that women remain subservient to men, that children be subservient to their parents, and that physical punishment is not only acceptable but expected in order to train obedience. These are but the tip of the iceberg.

The homeschool curriculum developed through the IBPL — called the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) — showcases the talking points being spewed by right-wing bigots bent on banning books. Take a look at some of the pages — and note, these are not jokes, not exaggerations, and not fake. These are part of the very educational curriculum being sold to IBPLP homeschool families, the very homeschool institutions that the book banners want to have public funds diverted toward for their own sake.

IBPL grooms its members to answer to the church and its philosophies. It grooms its children and women to be subservient to its men, utilizing physical abuse in order to do just that (yes, even the grown adult women are subject to “the rod” or time in the naughty corner at the discretion of their husbands).

While those of us outside this insular, fervent world are learning more about how deep and far Christian fundamentalism as activism goes — and indeed, these people play a very long game — IBPL and its ATI and affiliated education/training programs continue to thrive. There is a LOT of money within this organization of primarily white people, and that money is driving book bans firsthand right now.

Take, for example, the database in Louisiana, created by the Attorney General to snitch on librarians who offer inclusive books in their collections. Not only is this a substantial waste of taxpayer money and resources — on purpose, of course — but it is also partially funded by an old white guy named W. Ross Little, Junior. Who is that?

He happens to also be a funder behind political campaigns such as those of Jed Duggar. If you thought Josh was the only individual being groomed for politics in that family, you thought wrong.

It’s not just in politics though. These right-wing Christian extremists have taken to every possible corner of the internet and across social media to continue to spread their messages and beliefs. This is precisely what we’re seeing in school and library board meetings, and it’s also what we’re seeing when the affiliates of this organization and its homeschool curriculum share their beliefs as a tool for fueling outrage. Take for example the “Christian Mom” who decided that her kids could no longer watch Ms. Rachel, a YouTube star whose show for toddlers teaches music, colors, shapes, and more. Why did she have a problem with such a straightforward show?

She and her family do not believe in dinosaurs and they do not believe in pronouns (Ms. Rachel has a regularly appearing and deeply beloved guest on the show, Jules, who uses they/them pronouns).

This is the curriculum. They do not believe in dinosaurs. They do not believe in science. And they continue to advance these beliefs as truth every time they show up at board meetings and in board rooms, demanding everything from the removal of books about seahorses and Ruby Bridges to the defunding of public institutions like schools in favor of voucher programs which would continue to line the pockets of IBPL.

Homeschool programs like these promote isolation, promote dependence on white male authority figures, and create such a culture of fear that indoctrinates do not speak up for fear of retaliation and excommunication.

Go watch the series, whether or not you know anything about the Duggar family. TLC and other media companies have responsibility for promoting this on their hands, and they are complicit, too, in what we’re seeing happening across the country. Give a platform and spin a story that looks different from the truth and the responsibility falls on your hands.

Thank you to every survivor of this cult and others like it for speaking up and sharing — you are the reason we keep showing up to fight, knowing that writing a letter to a school board in support of queer books is nothing compared to being beaten, sexually assaulted, and groomed for subservience under the pretense of following the word of God.

For these people — and they are legion — the Bible is not a guide for how to love fellow man. It’s a tool of fear, hatred, and reproach.

Book Censorship News: June 9, 2023

  • The bill in Connecticut that would offer financial support for the designation of sanctuary libraries is heading to the governor’s desk.
  • Some excellent reporting from the Cedar Rapids Gazette (IA). Did you know the new law in Iowa that gives free reign to book bans has a clause in it that allows these challenges and bans to happen without being subject to public records laws? That should scare the hell out of you.
  • The Arizona governor vetoed a bill that would have facilitated book banning across the state.
  • In Douglas County, Colorado, citizens rebuked the efforts by the right-wing bigots to ban books throughout the library, among other things. Shocking no one, those bigots have been claiming “victory” on social media, utilizing the same propaganda and misinformation they did on their initial flier.
  • Three books have been banned in Brevard County (FL) schools. There cannot be appeals and the decision stands for 8 years.
  • “An anti-LGBTQ+ protest was organized on Instagram after a Pride celebration was scheduled at Saticoy Elementary in North Hollywood [CA]. The Pride celebration included a book reading about different types of families. Shortly after the celebration was announced, someone broke into the school after-hours to steal a transgender teacher’s pride flag and burn it. The same teacher was also doxxed by right-wing activists.” Just so you remember that this isn’t just happening in “those” states. If you’re in a blue state or think you’re safe, it’s your backyard, too.
  • Lander Valley High School (WY) has heard complaints about Let’s Talk About It but the book remains in the library.
  • The Punxsutawney School Board (PA) heard from a slate of book crisis actors — and those in favor of the rights for all — about inappropriate books in the school library. A decision will be made in the fall for how the school plans to address the issue. Read this one for the anti-censorship speaker comments.
  • The 11 books under fire at Roxbury schools (New Jersey).
  • HarperCollins and Scholastic are part of a lawsuit against Llano County, Texas’s public library related to book removal.
  • “Temecula’s conservative school board majority has blocked a history textbook because its supporting materials mention slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.” This is in California.
  • Nazareth and Parkland school districts in Pennsylvania experienced book challenges this year but neither made changes to where the books lived (AKA: crisis actors did not succeed). Of course they got lists since that’s how book banners operate.
  • Three books challenged in Staples High School (CT) — Gender Queer, Flamer, and This Book Is Gay — were allowed to stay in the school. Now there’s an appeal over the decision.
  • Four books which have been sequestered behind the desk at St Tammany Parish Library (LA) have been returned to their rightful spots on shelf.
  • Catawba County Schools (NC) have set a date for the debate over whether three books will remain in the schools: Monday’s Not Coming, Beyond Magenta, and Out of Darkness. A parent cited Bible passages at the recent meeting in an attempt to claim it is also inappropriate. This isn’t the way, y’all.
  • “We respect these people. It’s not us versus the LGBT,” he said. “But elementary students don’t have the requisite amount of emotional intelligence to handle these discussions. This is the time to teach algebra.” This is over new policy in Montgomery County Schools (MD) where parents won’t be notified in advance when a storytime book might include LGBTQ+ characters or themes. I also don’t know about this dude, but we did not learn algebra until high school. Quote pretty well encapsulates how well these bigots know child development or education.
  • Wicomico County Schools, also in Maryland, are dealing with “parental rights” folks demanding the removal of obscene material from the schools. No books are named, of course, as it is all a boogeyman.
  • A private bookstore in Maine experienced protesters to their drag queen story time. I thought these people were only mad about tax money and public institutions or whatnot. Their beliefs get really muddy.
  • Good news: Newtown, Connecticut, did not ban two graphic novels from their shelves.
  • At Idaho Falls Public Library (ID), every child now needs to have a parent or guardian re-register them for a library card. Why? Because of their new restricted card policy. Imagine how many kids will now go without a card at all because of the right-wing nonsense here. This is the opposite of what a library does or how it should operate.
  • “After debate at a Tuesday morning work session, school board members appeared to come to a consensus, saying that book challenges brought to the school for ‘pervasive vulgarity’ should be filtered through a librarian and school principle before a book is removed.” This is a real decision made by the Hanover school board in Virginia. They’re going to — gasp — trust the professionals before just pulling books off shelves.
  • A look at how SPLC-designated hate group MassResistance was behind book banning fervor in Ludlow Schools (Massachusetts).
  • Seminole schools (FL) are going to remove pages from their high school yearbook because — gasp — they reference LGBTQ+ topics.
  • Demands to remove books in Rio Rancho Public Library (NM) were unsuccessful.
  • What the hell is happening at Menominee Falls Public Library (WI)? “Jubber told Schlotthauer the village board would be requesting a book audit, and he planned to submit a request for reconsideration for ‘concerning teen LGBTQ+ titles on behalf of residents who may be hesitant to share their names and addresses that the form requests.'”
  • West Bend, Wisconsin is dealing with a spate of book challenges to the same familiar titles popular with the book crisis actors elsewhere, and there are board members sympathetic to the lies.
  • In news surprising absolutely no one, in this climate of right-wing bigotry and book bans, queer teens and teens of color are feeling less and less safe.
  • At Caro Public Library (MI), there are now people trying to get board members who don’t agree with banning books recalled from their positions.
  • “If you say yes to this bill, and this bill passes, you are playing in the hands of the GOP’s current attempt to eradicate LGBTQ education from this country,” said Marco Cozzolino, a senior at Westerly High School. “This is not how I want to remember this town.” This town hall in Westerly, Rhode Island, is a powerful look at how government should work — they talked about the new legislation in the state that would create more book bans (an interesting counter to the legislation earlier this year to protect librarians and teachers in the state from prosecution). The local representatives will not be voting in favor of the bill.
  • The 23-person (TWENTY THREE PERSON!!!!) committee at the Greeley-Evans School District (CO) are recommending keeping two challenged books in the schools.
  • I am paywalled, but this is a real article about why students should not serve on book review committees in Wake County, North Carolina, since it might expose them to vile material. So…students whose rights are on the line should have no say in that? Cool. They realize the kids are seeing the book crisis actors, who are the real danger, right?
  • New amendments have been added to the potential book ban bill being debated in Louisiana.
  • “Numerous people urged the board to leave in place its current opt-out policy by which parents can forbid their children from checking out objectionable books. So far, 41 parents have opted their children out of certain books. Thousands of parents, however, let their children have full access to the school libraries.” Most parents do not restrict their students’ access to books (Cheyenne, Wyoming).
  • Three books are being challenged by parents — they were acquired via a “list” posted on Facebook page, shocker — in Whitehall school district (MI).
  • A Pennridge School (PA) update.
  • “Students will need parental permission to read or check out books containing sexual content in the Hermon High School library beginning this fall, Principal Brian Walsh told the school board Monday.” This is in Maine. All parents will need to make a choice for their kids, and again, no one knows what “sexual content” means even though WE all know what it means. I guess we should be happy they’re not using BookLooks as their guide for rating the books? Not that Common Sense is especially reputable in a professional setting.
  • A proposal in Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools (NH) would limit book challenges to actual residents of the district. Revolutionary!
  • Western Placer Unified School District (CA) will make a final decision on whether or not The Hate U Give can remain in the curriculum later this month. The committee says it should, but now it’s up to the board. The book never had challenges before this year. Again, shocker!
  • “At issue for the bulk of over 70 speakers at both the budget public hearing (our count was 65) and majority of Public Comments (counted 9 total) on non-agenda items was whether continued County funding of Samuels Public Library should occur while a total of 134 books requested for removal by the ‘CleanUpSamuels’ website advocacy group remain on library shelves.” The book banners from Front Royal, Virginia, want to simply defund the public library if it doesn’t remove the books they disagree with.
  • Due to the new laws in Missouri, Mid-Continent Public Library has decided not to put up any Pride displays for children or teenagers.
  • Ada Public Library (ID) illegally removed six books from shelves in March, but this week, they will be back on shelves.
  • Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, Fade by Lisa McMann, Fallout by Ellen Hopkins, Foul is Fair / Golden Boys Beware by Hanna Capin, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Push by Sapphire and Tricks by Ellen Hopkins will all be returned to shelves at Beaufort Schools (SC). One book, Identical by Ellen Hopkins, came up to a tied vote on whether or not it can remain, so it will go through the process again.
  • “At a meeting last month, commissioners voted to remove the definition of diversity from Georgia’s teacher training documents. Thursday’s meeting is expected to include a vote on deleting ‘woke’ words from guides for training teachers and replacing them with less controversial language. For example, one change would instruct teachers to promote the value of ‘fairness’ rather than the values of ‘equity, social justice, community and diversity.'” Our children are being lied to, and it’s happening through state legislation.
  • I don’t doubt we’re going to see more and more teachers leave over book bans and discriminatory education policy in Florida (and elsewhere around the country).
  • Identical will be recommended to remain on shelves in Manheim Township School (PA).
  • “At the May board meeting, one member of the public said she was concerned that a member of one branch’s staff ‘appears to be transgender.’ At the same meeting, another speaker told the board the libraries have ‘inappropriate’ and sexual content that is ‘sexualizing’ children.” A book crisis actor showed up and started nonsense at the Garfield County Public Library District (CO) over books, yes, but also the fact one of the library’s staff members looks like they might be transgender. Literally complaining about another human.
  • In Saline County, Arkansas, where the public library has been center to ongoing “controversy” (from book banners), the county judge just gave himself oversight of the library board which means management and operations of the library itself.
  • Great Falls, Montana has seen a rise in anti-library billboards lying about distribution of sexual material to children. “Liberty and Values MT” apparently does not include being truthful and honest.
  • Liberty Lake City Council (WA) has officially failed in trying to take over the public library.