Cheers and boos erupted from the audience of nearly 200 on Thursday night as Public Speakers Tell Ashland Public Library Board Members How They Feel on some children’s books.
The the books have been called both pornographic and academic since hitting shelves earlier this year.
Protesters initially targeted five books, two of which are now in the adult section of the library, according to board chairwoman Sandra Hedlund Tunnell.
The other three tracks remain in the children’s section: “Own Your Period: A Fact-filled Guide to Period Positivity” by Chella Quint, “Making A Baby” by Rachel Greener, and “Puberty Is Gross But Also Really Awesome” by Gina Loveless .
All three titles contain illustrations and no photographic images.
Spectators bring signs
The June library board meeting made headlines with a handful of visitors. In July, the crowd of nearly 200 filled the public library and spilled out into the parking lot during the meeting.
Attendees were again numerous, some arriving more than an hour before the meeting, many with signs in their hands: “Ban Assault Rifles, Not Books”; “Support the library, not censorship” and “Books unite us, censorship divides us”.
An opposite sign said, “Find hope in Jesus. He forgives. He loves you.”
Tunnell explained at the start of the meeting that only a few visitors would have the floor – those who had called the library in advance would have 5 minutes each to share their opinions.
“Sexually Explicit Material”
The members of the public who were there to support the library are not actually residents of Ashland County, said the Reverend John Bouquet, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church.
“We welcome our out-of-town visitors,” Bouquet said in turn, prompting cries of, “We’re not!”
The pastor reiterated the same point he made before – that the books “introduce children to sexually explicit content too soon”.
He said the discussion was “about discretion”.
“It’s about protecting the hearts and minds of our children in their formative years,” Bouquet said.
He said the books contained “graphic images of naked men” and accused the publishers of having “another agenda”.
“We’re not asking for their removal,” Bouquet said. “Books can stay in the library. Just move them to the adult section.”
“Stop this false narrative”
Kathy Barnet is an Ashland resident and mother of three. She said it would be dangerous for books to be removed from the library just to go against someone’s beliefs.
She challenged the audience to think about what might happen if a Muslim or someone of another faith succeeded in getting Christian books banned from the library.
“Do they have the right to do this? Barnet asked. “Of course not. This is where we go down a slippery slope.”
His reference to the documents as “health books” drew boos from a few. She said history is not kind to those who ban books.
“I’m sure we’ve all heard them called the facts of life,” Barnet said. “These are facts.”
She asked parents if it would be better for children to learn about puberty from other children, on the internet or from library books.
“Nobody puts porn in the kids section,” Barnet said. “Stop this false narrative.”
The illustrations were not drawn “by accident”
William Herod lives in the village of Jeromesville, about 10 minutes southeast of Ashland, and said he was the father of four library users.
He said he objected to the content of the books in question.
“As an artist by trade, I know that the illustrator’s pencil did not accidentally place a child’s face directly in front of a man’s exposed genitals,” Herod said.
It only takes a child a few seconds to open a book and see the documents, he said. And while it’s not offensive for the library to have the books, it’s offensive to put them in the children’s section.
Herod said the discussion “belongs to Ashland” and should not include “the shuttle protesters”.
Hate mail that does not reflect Christian love
The second pastor to speak, Rev. Justin Hylden of First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, read a statement he prepared with input from seven other local clergy.
The pastor said he was in favor of the library keeping the books where they are.
“Let’s be clear, child pornography is a profound tragedy, the gravity of which should not be mitigated by association with the content of these books,” Hylden said. “These books do not contain any pornographic images. They contain anatomically illustrative representations of the human body appropriate for their age group and educational purposes.”
He reminded audiences that classic works of art are far more sexually explicit than the books in question.
Even the Bible itself, he said, “includes many explicit accounts.”
He said it was important that freedom, rather than censorship, prevail. Through disagreements, everyone should continue to love their neighbour.
“We don’t represent a Christian town, but Christians in a town,” Hylden said. “We are grateful for all of our neighbours.”
“We understand that library board members have received hate mail,” Hylden continued. “We unconditionally declare that this is contrary to the way of Jesus and does not reflect Christian love.”
Following all the comments, Tunnell thanked everyone for coming.
“We appreciate your interest in the library,” she said. “We also like the library.”