October 15, 2017

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Texas Pastor Attempts to Ban “Twilight” from Austin Memorial Library

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With Banned Books Week on the horizon (September 21-27), a recent case illustrates the ongoing debate over the freedom to read. Phillip Missick, pastor of King of Saints Tabernacle in Cleveland, Texas, recently attempted to have paranormal young adult titles removed from the Austin Memorial Library on the basis that these books are inappropriate and dangerous to young people, according to an ABC News report.

An August 22 article in the Cleveland Advocate reported that Missick handed a petition to Austin’s city council on August 12 asking that the “occultic and demonic room be shut down and these books be purged from the shelves, and that public funds would no longer be used to purchase such material, or at least require parents to check them out for their children.”

AustinMemLibThere are 75 books on Missick’s list, including Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series (Little, Brown) and P. C. and Kristin Cast’s “House of Night” series (St. Martin’s). The titles feature vampires, demons, and other magical or occult creatures. The petition has been signed by several other church leaders, including Reverend James Holt and Reverend Earl Faust, both of the Cornerstone Church of Cleveland. Since signing, Holt has withdrawn his signature and “sent a letter to the city apologizing for not ‘exploring all the facts before signing,'” says the Cleveland Advocate.

Mary Cohn, director of the Austin Memorial Library, has responded with a letter to Missick that cites the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights, which states “…materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

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Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series is one of the several occult books Pastor Missick is trying to ban.

Cohn also responded to Missick’s suggestion that he stated—during the comments section of the Austin council meeting—that if young people do want to read these books, their parents—not the kids themselves—should check them out instead: “Since the majority of the children using the library come with their parents, I believe this is a moot point.”

Those in the library and literary community have rallied behind Cohn and Austin Memorial. Barbara Jones, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, lauded the library’s reaction. “We respect the clergyman’s concerns about vampires,” she tells SLJ. “If he wants to tell his congregation not to read the books, that is his right. It is the right of his congregation to read those books or not read those books, but he cannot tell a whole community that they cannot read those books, and we applaud the Cleveland library director, Mary Cohn [for] …quoting the Library Bill of Rights in her response to Reverend Missick.”

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition for Censorship, echoed Jones’s words: “Pastor Missick doesn’t have to read the ‘Twilight’ books just because they’re in the library—but he can’t stop others from [reading them].” She cited the history of using religion for censorship, saying that “[This] complaint is just the latest in a long history of efforts to ban books that are offensive to the religious beliefs of some… Fortunately, the federal courts have rejected these arguments, because the First Amendment protects the right of each of us to make our own decisions about what to read and have supported the idea that schools and libraries can and should offer a wide selection of reading material to serve diverse tastes, views, and interests.”

According to Cohn, the case was scheduled to go before the city council on September 9 to decide the future of these books on the library’s shelves.

Susanna Reich, chair of the PEN’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee, says that this is one of many cases of censorship that have come to PEN’s attention during this summer and that it follows a pattern in challenges based on religious beliefs. “[Missick] has the right to give his opinion, but he doesn’t have the right to take books away from other people,” says Reich. “In the same way, a parent can object to their own child reading a book, but doesn’t have the right to say what other people’s children should be allowed to read.”

Missick was quoted as expressing a similar sentiment in an ABC News article:

“I understand they have the right to these books, but I also have a right to complain about them.”

Update (Sept. 22, 2014): According to Cohn, the council voted unanimously to “leave the decision on banning books up to the library director” and “to allow the library director to perform the duties which they have been assigned and run the library the best way he/she saw fit.

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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Comments

  1. This is downright silly. Not only am I not in favor of banning books, but Twilight is old news by now most kids have read the series, seen the movies, or both!

  2. Does this church even exist? I looked it up online and the only mention of the church or the pastor are news stories about the call for banning books. You’d think there’s be at least a Facebook page for the church with service times and a phone number or something. Am I missing something here?

  3. Lydia Knight says:

    What about being banned from entering the library at all, just because you are a woman?
    http://www.islamicinvitationturkey.com/2013/06/09/saudi-arabia-bans-womens-entry-to-library/
    According to this article, women are not allowed to check out books, their “legal guardian” must check it out for them. This is true oppression, not just the expression of opinion.