This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 1992

Novmember 18, 1992 - the politics of intimidation

Maddy, my five year old daughter, came running into my office. She leapt up onto my lap, then looked at me intently.

I could tell that something was on her mind. So I met her fixed, earnest gaze, and asked, "What?"

"You got a booger hanging out of your nose," she said.

Such candor can, on occasion, be disconcerting. But on the whole, I find it refreshing. Sometimes, I'm not altogether sure what people are trying to tell me.

Take, for instance, a workshop I went to on November 7 in Colorado Springs. Billed as a Community Impact Seminar, it was sponsored by two groups. One of them is called "Focus on the Family," whose leading spokesperson is Dr. James Dobson, a child psychologist and prominent radio personality. The other group is the "Rocky Mountain Family Council," formed by a group of lawyers.

Both groups have described themselves as "conservative Christian." Each has become far more visible recently in what Focus on the Family likes to call "the public square" -- the world of politics and public affairs.

What bothered me came in the last part of the meeting. The speaker for the Rocky Mountain Family Council talked about two cases involving public schools in Aurora.

In the first case, some parents upset about the possibility of school-sponsored distribution of condoms to high school students contacted the Rocky Mountain Family Council for "help." The Council responded with a barrage of medical evidence and legal opinions about the use and distribution of condoms.

After considering this information, the school's health task force -- and eventually the whole school board -- changed their minds. The plan to distribute condoms was dropped, and according to the speaker, the board was going to develop a new sex education program based on abstinence.

If all this indeed happened as described, I would characterize it as "the politics of consensus." Some local people sought relevant information from at least one outside source, and presented it to local decision-makers. Everybody talked about it. The final decision was therefore better informed.

I think that's good. I even think it's commendable.

Now we get to the second, more disturbing case. It seems that an elementary school student checked out a book called "Witches" from the school library. His parents were also upset, partly by the subject matter, and partly by some of the drawings in the book. Again, a call was made to the Rocky Mountain Family Council.

This time, the Council used press releases to prod Channel 7 into interviewing the parents. On that night's news, the station showed some pictures from the book -- but with little black strips across the alleged "naughty bits."

According to the seminar spokesperson, the unnamed school principal then acted quickly -- and covertly. First, he told the school librarian to remove "Witches" from the collection. Then, he ordered her to yank any and all books with words like "witch," or "ghost," or "Halloween" in the title. Permanently.

At this point in the seminar over 600 people burst into sustained and impassioned applause.

Now this story, if true, bothers me. This is not the politics of consensus. It is the politics of intimidation and appeasement. This is not the reasoned consideration of objective data. It is the blind rejection of a whole branch of literature solely to avoid the pall of "bad PR."

Folk and fairy tales -- many of which feature witches -- are a longstanding part of our mainstream cultural heritage. To remove a list of unexamined materials solely on the basis of the words in their titles is not only blatant censorship, it's a little dim.

Encouraged locally by Focus on the Family and the Rocky Mountain Family Council, embracing such related organizations as Colorado for Family Values (the framers of Amendment 2), what may be an increasingly cohesive and politically savvy religious right is targeting school board elections, library board appointments, the Republican party leadership, and a broad range of elected positions.

Are they within their rights to do so? Absolutely. In a democracy, any group has the right to champion its beliefs, to try to persuade others to change their beliefs, and to seek to influence public policy.
Any group that takes the time to get organized, to inform itself about the political process, or even to assume the often thankless jobs of public service in the first place, can have a great effect on our culture.

When public agencies are strapped for funds, such political activists may wield even greater influence. School districts, libraries, and elected officials may shy away from any controversy lest they face voter defeat on entirely unrelated issues.

And in official silence, through back door appeasements and capitulation, a single pressure group can impose its values on an entire public institution.

I think that's bad. Sometimes, as Maddy has taught me, people need to speak up.

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