Just call him the librarian-in-chief. In yet another gross abuse of executive authority, President Joe Biden is wielding the power of his Department of Education to stop parental efforts to remove sexually explicit books from public school libraries.
It’s his latest in a string of moves meant to bully parents and other concerned citizens into silence when it comes to what kids learn in public schools and, in this case, when they should be exposed to sexually explicit material. But the notion that the federal government has any authority to veto a school district’s decision to protect students from pornographic content belongs in the library’s fantasy section.
The Biden administration’s latest assault on parental rights began with an investigation of Forsyth County Public Schools (FCPS), outside of Atlanta, over the district’s review of school libraries to flag age-inappropriate sexual material for removal. The school district expressly and categorically limited the scope of this review to books containing “obviously sexually explicit or pornographic content.” No one who reads the relevant excerpts of these books can seriously dispute that their graphic descriptions of nudity, oral sex, sexual assault, and other sexual behavior meet the district’s reasonable standard of content that is inappropriate for school-age children.
Though the review process focused exclusively on sexual content and ended with the return of nearly all of the books under inspection to school library shelves, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) nevertheless opened an investigation into whether the district’s book review had created a “hostile environment” based on race and sex that the school district had unlawfully failed to remedy.
Rather than invite federal sanctions, FCPS cut short this investigation by entering into a resolution agreement with OCR. One particularly concerning provision of that “voluntary” agreement requires the school district to issue a statement reassuring students “that the District strives to provide a global perspective and promote diversity” in curating its library catalog — despite the fact that no federal civil rights law mandates such acts of worship at the altar of so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion.
On June 8, the White House made clear that the FCPS matter was not an isolated investigation, announcing that OCR will appoint a new “coordinator” to warn state and local education agencies that heeding parents’ calls to remove sexually explicit books from school libraries could trigger the agency’s enforcement authority, including the withholding of federal funding.
OCR’s enforcement wheels are already turning in its investigation of Granbury Independent School District in North Texas over that district’s removal of sexually explicit school library books. Granbury, a conservative town of 11,000, makes an easy target for the Biden administration. The FCPS agreement serves as the template to force Granbury and other school districts throughout the country to abide by OCR standards on the content of books they must make available to schoolchildren.
Biden’s scheme to impose a school library code on the nation suffers from at least one major flaw: He has no legal authority to pursue it. Federal civil rights law doesn’t forbid school districts from deciding not to offer graphic sexual content on their library shelves. In fact, as my organization pointed out in a recent letter to OCR, the law that established the department in 1979 specifically prohibits OCR from policing such decisions, denying the federal agency any authority “over the selection or content of library resources.”
Rather, Congress expressed its intent to reserve to state and local governments substantial discretion over education policy, including school library offerings, recognizing that “in our Federal system, the primary public responsibility for education is reserved respectively to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States.” The Biden administration ignores at its peril these vital, constitutionally based guardrails intended by Congress to constrain the department from becoming a national school board.
The Biden Education Department’s illegal interference in school library decisions is calculated to intimidate parents and school districts that want to ensure children do not read graphic sexual content at school. The real civil rights violation at issue here is OCR’s impermissible chilling of First Amendment rights regarding what books are appropriate for public school students. The president’s claimed authority to silence concerned parents and restrain school districts from curating library books is nothing more than fiction.