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, August 31, 1994

August 31, 1994 - Helms Amendment

Last week I received some information from the American Library Association's "Office of Intellectual Freedom." The OIF tracks attempts (by a staggering number of groups across the nation) to get certain kinds of materials withdrawn from library collections, usually for ideological or religious reasons.

Here's the text of the message I received:

"Supporters of intellectual freedom were stunned when, during Senate floor debate on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Senate adopted on August 1 and 2 an amendment developed by Senator Robert C. Smith (R-NH) and Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). The amendment would provide that no local educational agency receiving funds under the Improving America's Schools Act (HR 6) 'shall implement or carry out a program or activity that has either the purpose or effect of encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.'

"The definition of program or activity, for purposes of the amendment, 'includes the distribution of instructional materials, instruction, counseling, or other services on school grounds, or referral of a pupil to an organization that affirms a homosexual lifestyle.'

"The language of the amendment is vague enough to impact even neutral instructional and library materials on sex education and sexuality, because the mere provision of information is often interpreted to 'have the effect of encouraging' or endorsing the subject matter of the information. Thus, the amendment could have a serious impact on school sex education curricula and a broad array of school library materials. In addition, once the precedent is established, all controversial subjects become fair game for threats of funding cuts in both the school and public library setting. The amendment's denial of federal funds to school counseling programs for gay teens is particularly disturbing in light of some studies which suggest that gay teens are at three times greater risk for suicide."

I have no way of knowing what kinds of feelings you, the reader, may have about homosexuals. But to many librarians, this amendment is a cause for professional concern. It appears that the Smith-Helms amendment exacts a financial penalty against schools that do teach (meaning, "pass on knowledge"), and rewards those that do not (meaning, "withhold knowledge").

A good test of this kind of legislation is to pull out the word "homosexual," and see if any other word makes sense in the same context.

Suppose the word is "Nazi." Suppose this amendment said that funding would be cut from any school whose teachers mentioned Nazis, because talking about Nazism means promoting Nazism. Does that make sense?

Suppose the word is "assassination." If we provide information about political assassinations in our nation's history, aren't we encouraging our youngsters to consider this an acceptable lifestyle option?

I am by no means suggesting that either Nazism or political assassination has anything to do with homosexuality. My point is that even extreme "lifestyle choices" that most Americans believe are morally reprehensible are nonetheless part of the historical record. We can't just edit them out of the textbooks and libraries.

The word might as easily be "Jew" or "Mohammed," "Democrat," or "Republican." Or perhaps the word would vary according to changes in the Congressional religious and/or political majority.

Or suppose the word is "Depression," as in emotional malaise, and Congress decides that providing any counseling or referrals of children to support groups just encourages the problem.

No matter what your feelings about homosexuality, it is undeniable that it exists. Behind this amendment to a school finance act is two messages: first, "Let's not talk about it and maybe it will go away."

Anybody buy that?

But where the first message is naive, most librarians believe the second message is dangerous. Once we accept the notion that providing information is exactly equal to endorsement, then we have politicized all knowledge. We have made it ALL dangerous -- for who knows where it may lead? Better to say nothing.

Thus the logical consequence of this philosophy is not that all publicly-funded institutions will soon provide topnotch information about the things the United States Congress, in its collective wisdom, has decided it is safe (this particular session) for our children to know about the world around them.

Rather, it will make the federal government an aggressive promoter of something this nation already has in abundance: ignorance.

Sometime around Labor Day of this year, the Smith-Helms amendment will be decided. If you would like to voice your own opinion on the matter, contact any or all of the following Senators: Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), James Jeffords (R-VT), Dan Coats (R-IN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dave Durenberger (R-MN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Harris Wofford (D-PA), and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Any Senator's office can be reached by phone through the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Incidentally, you can be sure that the proponents of the amendment WILL call. In a democracy, those who act, prevail.

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