Will Schmidt be stalwart against censorship?

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

For some reason, given the makeup of Shawano County and much of northeast Wisconsin, I figured that when a book issue at the library made headlines, it would be something consider “woke” or something involving gays and lesbians, as a lot of these brouhahas have been springing up around the country. If I’d placed money on that and not on Christian books with crosses, I would have lost.

Currently under debate by the Shawano County Library Board is where Christian fiction belongs. Previously labeled as faith books, they’ve moving them to the inspirational books section and removed the cross. That brought a few people out to protest the idea at the last board meeting Oct. 9, and if the meeting hadn’t been held in the middle of the day, I’d imagine there would be more people gnashing their teeth on the subject.

The issue has even caught the attention of Rep. Peter Schmidt, who took a stand against the idea in his weekly email blast letting folks know what’s going on at the capitol. Schmidt said that a constituent brought the issue to him, and he plans to take steps to keep the matter from moving forward. He is also vowing to work closely with the Wisconsin Library Association and said he has already met with its representatives on the matter.

“It is a slippery slope when we as a society begin to ban or burn books,” Schmidt said in the email. “Whether it’s the Holy Bible, Hindu scriptures or ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ everyone should have uncensored access to books in our state-funded libraries.”

It’s refreshing when a public official comes out in favor of enlightenment, especially when it’s a Republican. Unfortunately, when it comes to censorship, there are many cases where conservatives are the ones banning, censoring or torching books. In Mississippi, a mayor threatened to withhold $110,000 from his town’s library until staff removed “homosexual material” because it offended his Christian beliefs. In Virginia, two school board members suggested taking the banned books and holding a public burning “so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

Back to the local issue, it makes no sense to label Christian fiction inspirational when you still have books of other faiths like Judaism, Hinduism and the like that still are under the faith category. Not all inspirational stories from Christian roots, and not all Christian fiction can be deemed inspiring.

The Shawano County Library is claiming that it’s adhering to American Library Association guidelines, which opposes the use of a cross on Christian fiction. However, the ALA’s Association for Library Services to children decided about five years ago to pull Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name off an award for outstanding children’s literature authors because her books, written about life in the late 19th century, don’t fit in the political correctness of today. Therefore, I wouldn’t place much faith in the organization’s guidelines.

If it’s the cross that’s the issue, it does seem unfair that only Christian faith books are identified separately. However, instead of covering up the crosses, why don’t we have symbols on other books of faith. A Star of David icon on Jewish-themed books might look nice. The ALA’s website objects to a cross when other religious fiction does not have such a designation, so maybe instead of eliminating the crosses and moving the books into inspiration limbo, we should figure out how menorahs and nativity scenes can coexist on our library shelves.

The fact that this is coming up now, when the main branch in Shawano is practically falling in on itself, seems particularly ridiculous. Removing the crosses just in time to lock the doors when the health hazards get to be too much shows faulty priorities.

When you ban a book, you’re curtailing people’s freedoms. When you burn a book, you’re curtailing those freedoms and adding barbecue sauce. When you resort to censorship through hiding books under a different category, you’re curtailing freedoms while wearing a fake cloak of inclusivity, and that’s not what libraries should stand for.

I’m glad the matter is catching attention at the state level and that Schmidt is willing to fight against censorship. Of course, it’s easy to get upset and fight back when you’re a member of the discriminated party — in this case, Christians.

I hope Schmidt’s fervor is just as solid when — and I say “when” because it will happen eventually — people push to ban LGBT materials, books about race, classic novels with themes that cause certain snowflakes to melt and other pieces of literature in our local libraries. It’s easy to have righteous fury when the issue impacts you, but true character comes when you channel that fury for a cause that has nothing to do with you.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.