Mommy Daze is proud to host this post by Professor Millie Gore Author of All is Assuredly Well. She will speak about her role in federal court when Wichita passed a book banning law.
I sat on the witness stand in Federal Court for two hours on my forty-seventh birthday. At first, my heart thundered. I looked out at the gallery. A hundred people smiled at me, winked, gave me thumbs-up. Another hundred scowled at me, crossed their arms, shook their heads.
I looked at the judge. He looked back. I looked at the city attorney. He frowned and narrowed his eyes. I looked at our ACLU attorney. He smiled and nodded. I took a deep breath.
After I was sworn in, my mouth was so dry that I called out to an acquaintance in the gallery and asked him to get me a cup of water. He jumped up to help.
“No!” cried the judge. “He can’t do that! The bailiff will bring you some water! Bailiff!” The bailiff disappeared and reappeared with a little cone of water. I gulped it.
I thought, “Put on your big-girl panties and do this, Millie.” So I did.
I was testifying as a plaintiff and expert witness against the City of Wichita Falls, Texas. I was testifying because the city had passed a statute to ban Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate from the children’s section of the public library, picture books that depict happy, healthy families with same-sex parents.
I was an expert witness certified by the federal court because I was a college professor in multicultural education.
I was one of sixteen plaintiffs out of conscience.
The battle started when a local preacher, Robert Jeffress, decided that the books should be banned. He rallied his huge congregation to push the city to pass a book banning amendment.
When Jeffress’s actions hit the paper, a group of First Amendment supporters formed the Wichita Falls Coalition Against Censorship (WFCAC).
A few days later, a member called me and said, “Your (Episcopal) priest has joined our group and is willing to be a plaintiff if the city tries to ban books. He said that you’d want to be part of this.”
My father had spent his law career fighting for African Americans, so I spent my high school years in that battle, too, one teacher even calling the sheriff to complain that I was “too good of friends with the black kids.”
If my priest said I would want to be part of this battle, I guessed it was time I started fighting for gay people, too.
“Uh, okay,” I said.
WFCAC asked the ACLU to represent us. John Horany, a gay native of Wichita Falls practicing law in Dallas, answered the ACLU’s call to represent us.
So we waited.
Eventually, Jeffress persuaded the city to pass a law to remove any book from the children’s library if 300 library-card holders signed a petition objecting to said book.
Three hundred library-card-holding Jeffress supporters signed a petition to remove Heather and Daddy’s Roommate.
Then the furious but self-controlled City Librarian, Linda Hughes, followed the law as she was required to do and removed the books from the children’s library.
We filed suit immediately. We sued the city, the city manager, and the grateful city librarian.
The following Monday, a senior faculty member told me, “You know I’m sympathetic, but if you do this, your career here will be over. You know that the mayor is also the chairman of the board of regents of our university.”
I was shaking in my boots, but I said, “If I don’t do this, I’ll never be able to look in the mirror and respect myself again. I’ll find another job if I have to.”
Months later, the lawsuit came to trial.
When I was called to the witness stand, I walked up the aisle carrying two large brown grocery sacks stuffed full of books that had been challenged or banned in libraries and schools. I looked like a bag lady wearing a $300 silk skirted suit. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought I might be having a heart attack.
The bailiff helped me get the bags into the witness box so I would have room to sit. Then for two hours, the city’s attorney fired questions at me, including the bizarre, “What is your opinion of Hitler and Mussolini?”
I pulled book after book out of my sacks and surprised the judge, the lawyers, and the gallery that they had been challenged. Harry Potter, of course, but also Huck Finn, Call of the Wild, and Where the Wild Things Are. To Kill a Mockingbird. Bridge to Terabithia. A Wrinkle in Time. The Holy Bible.
When I pulled A Day No Pigs Would Die out of my sack, the judge asked, “Why was this book banned? It’s one of my favorites!”
Finally, the city attorney asked, “Do you think parents have the right to determine what their children read?”
I said, “Every American citizen is born with all the rights of citizenship, so children do have the legal right to read what they want. However, in our culture, we believe that reasonable parents have the responsibility to raise their children as they think best. So you can determine what books your children can have access to. But you do not have the right to determine what books my children can have access to.”
Thirteen months later, the court issued its final decision. The judge quoted my testimony extensively. The Altman Amendment was unconstitutional.
Librarian Linda Hughes joyfully returned the books to their rightful place in the children’s library.
The threats to intellectual freedom today are as real as they were 19 years ago. In 2017, in the United States of America, 416 books were challenged or banned from various school or public libraries. The top ten?
Thirteen Reasons Why; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; Drama; The Kite Runner; George; Sex is a Funny Word; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Hate U Give; And Tango Makes Three; and I am Jazz.
I’m over 65 now, but I’m ready for one more big fight before I die. I’ve co-written a book that I fully expect some people to try to ban, All is Assuredly Well. It’s about King Phillip and his husband, Don Carlos. They live contentedly for decades until King Phillip is called to the Hero’s Journey to earn a baby girl to complete the royal couple’s loving family.
Some people won’t want your child to have access to this book. But only you can decide whether or not this book is appropriate for your child. Make the decision yourself. Don’t let other people decide what your child can have access to at his school or her public library by sitting by silently when books are challenged. Stand up and speak out. Even if you’re the only one who does.
Because the price of freedom to read is eternal vigilance.
By Professor Millie Gore
For Books written by Professor Gore, a outline of her WOW book tour, and my own review on her book All is Assuredly Well please click here
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