March 17, 2014

When is a book ban not a book ban?

Maybe when no books are actually … banned?

Maybe when no books are actually … banned?

I come not to defend the House’s decision to withhold money from two colleges for requiring students to read gay-themed books, but rather to defend linguistic integrity. And to promote a proper understanding of what “banning books” is — and is not.

I’ve been trying to ignore the whole “how awful is it that the House wants to punish these colleges” thing because, well, because I just had more important things to think about. But then I saw the Post and Courier headline, “Who knew the Legislature could read, much less ban, books?” And my pet-peeve meter shot into the red.

It is linguistically defensible to call the House’s action an assault on academic freedom; it’s a debatable point, but if you think the action could curtail academic freedom, then that’s an accurate way to describe the situation.

The same is not true when you grab ahold of more emotionally fraught language about banning books. For this simple reason: Even if the Senate and the governor go along with the House vote, there will be nothing in the state budget — or anywhere else — to take any books off of anybody’s shelves or even prevent colleges from requiring that they be read.

The proviso the House adopted would simply say to the colleges: The Legislature isn’t going to pay for this requirement.

Using the B-word when the government declines to fund something is of a piece with those who scream “Censorship” — something only a government can do — whenever some private person or entity declines to lend them its megaphone.

Frankly, it’s the Legislature’s job to decide what it is and isn’t going to pay for. The question, which is always worthy of debate, is whether it should get this deep into the weeds — and whether this is a smart policy decision. And since it’s one of those culture-war questions, I’ll leave it to the rest of you to discuss.

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