Part II

Past and Present series

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The war on literature currently being waged in parts of America—Texas stands out as the epicenter of the backward march to a period when the Roman Catholic Church had deployed its enormous power to ban manuscripts and books—prompted me to delve into the history of free speech and the efforts that are made to curtail it.

I learned a great deal about censorship from numerous articles on the Internet about the subject, including the fact that, as far back as 443 BCE, Rome had established a body to suppress any material deemed harmful to the common people.

Writing for Beacon of Free Expression in 2010, Mette Newth pointed out:

Perhaps the most famous case of censorship in ancient times is that of Socrates, sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC [I prefer BCE] for his corruption of youth and his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities. It is fair to assume that Socrates was not the first person to be severely punished for violating the moral and political code of his time.

One Texan who is in forefront of the backward march to medieval times is Matt Krause. Last year he began spearheading a campaign to remove a vast number of books from schools and libraries, and pack school boards with white Christian extremists and Republicans.

The Atlantic reported last month:

Krause, a Republican in the Texas House of Representatives, has gone hunting in public-school libraries for any books that might generate “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of [a student’s] race or sex.”

Texas governor Greg Abbott, left, and Matt Krause. YouTube screenshots

In October, he distributed a watch list of 850 books. The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has in parallel called for a criminal investigation into the availability of “pornographic” books in public schools. What we’re witnessing is plainly a shakedown.

And this week, a San Antonio school district pulled 414 books from its libraries in response to the ongoing pressure from Texas lawmakers and a vocal segment of angry parents to limit what children can choose to read.

‘Many of the books in question are about sex, abortion, race, and sexuality,” wrote Emma Sarappo. adding: “Some are nonfiction; others are novels. They span several decades in American publishing. They include Pulitzer Prize winners and beloved classics – and, yes, works by more than one Atlantic writer.’

Texas has seen a rash of book panics at schools across different districts in recent months, and the state recently passed a law that limits what teachers can teach about current events, particularly with regard to race and racism in America.

Danika Ellis, writing for Bookriot, pointed out last October that:

Perhaps the most disturbing trend I saw in this list is the challenging of books that teach students their rights. Of all the things to teach in school or for kids to have access to, this is one of the most important. To be clear, I’m not even counting books about reproductive rights or your rights as an LGBTQ person in particular.

These are titles like The Legal Atlas of the United States, Teen Legal Rights, Gender Equality and Identity Rights (Foundations of Democracy), Equal Rights, We the Students: Supreme Court Sases for and About Students, and Peaceful Rights for Equal Rights.

What does it say about an elected official that he would want books about students’ legal rights taken out of school libraries? Who considers it dangerous for kids to know their rights?

Withholding information from students about their rights is incredibly unethical. Whether a parent or lawmaker agrees with every right students have, they should not be able to deny students’ access to knowing about them.

last November the American Library Association (ALA), deeply concerned about the a efforts of Republicans and far-right Christians to rid schools and libraries of books they deemed unsuitable for young readers, pointed out that there was “a dramatic uptick in book challenges and outright removal of books from libraries.”

ALA’s Executive Board and the Boards of Directors for all of ALA’s eight divisions said in a statement last year:

In recent months, a few organizations have advanced the proposition that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves. To this end, they have launched campaigns demanding the censorship of books and resources that mirror the lives of those who are gay, queer, or transgender or that tell the stories of persons who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of color.

Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections.

Some of these groups even resort to intimidation and threats to achieve their ends, targeting the safety and livelihoods of library workers, educators, and board members who have dedicated themselves to public service, informing our communities, and educating our youth. 

Since then, there have been numerous reports of these far-right trouble-makers infiltrating schools boards, and disrupting meetings. Many are calling them “domestic terrorists.”

A few months before ALA issued its statement, Spectrum News 1 reported that:

Organizations like Citizens Renewing America, a nonprofit seeking to ‘renew an American consensus of a nation under God,’ have published toolkits for combating critical race theory. The toolkit includes tips for identifying CRT, for growing a grassroots network and for ‘winning back your school board.’

The toolkit describes CRT as a form of identity politics aimed at destroying any institution deemed to be oppressive – including Christianity, free markets and traditional marriage – and painting ‘straight white people’ as oppressors.

Image via YouTube

The organization is led by Russ Vought, [above], a former Trump administration official. While he was director of the Office of Management and Budget, part of his role was to implement the President’s executive order banning funding for CRT and other diversity training.

Vought’s nonprofit has become the behind-the-scenes leader in the battle over CRT being fought in churches and school boards around the country.

Spectrum’s Eric Griffey reported that conflicts are playing out in cities and towns across the country, amid the rise of at least 165 local and national groups that aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender.

Reinforced by conservative think tanks, law firms and activist parents, these groups have found allies in families frustrated over COVID-19 restrictions in schools and have weaponized the right’s opposition to critical race theory, turning it into a political rallying point.

While the efforts vary, they share strategies of disruption, publicity and mobilization. The groups swarm school board meetings, inundate districts with time-consuming public records requests and file lawsuits and federal complaints alleging discrimination against white students. They have become media darlings in conservative circles and made the debate over critical race theory a national issue.

Virtually all school districts insist they are not teaching critical race theory, but many activists and parents have begun using it as a catch-all term to refer to what schools often call equity programs, teaching about racism or LGBTQ-inclusive policies.

Now, conservative activists are setting their sights on ousting as many school board members as they can, and local Republicans have vowed to help, viewing the revolt against critical race theory as akin to the Tea Party wave from a decade ago.

Prominent Republican political figures are rushing in to support the parent activists, hoping that these local battles will mobilize conservative voters in next year’s midterms and beyond. As former Trump adviser Steve Bannon put it on his podcast in May: ‘The path to save the nation is very simple – it’s going to go through the school boards.’

Who is Carole Hornsby Haynes?

In July last year, Living Blue pointed out that there are 1,029 school districts in Texas, and that Citizens Renewing America was planning on targeting them all.

Wrote Michelle H Davis:

[Extremists] plan to attend school board meetings in every school district in Texas, pretend to be local residents, and make a big scene about how they hate Critical Race Theory, but since there isn’t one public school in Texas that is teaching Critical Race Theory, what these people are actually doing is attacking racial equality.

And she pointed out that “an elderly white lady” claiming to be an educational expert “gave a disgustingly racist speech.”

It was obvious within the first minute that she had no idea what Critical Race Theory was, nor has she ever read a Critical Race Theory book in her life. Instead, she spewed white supremacist propaganda and used fear tactics to scare the audience with terms like ‘abolish the white race’ and eliminate whites.

Her name is Carole Hornsby Haynes. Although she has no apparent ties with Citizens for Renewing America, her agenda is the same. These people are race-baiters, trying to scare the white folk against anyone seeking equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Images via American Citizens Matter/YouTube

A quick Google search revealed that Haynes is not quite the fossil Davis described. The screenshots above indicate this, but the mugshots she uses on her website and on far-right sites such as American Citizens Matter appear to have been taken in the last century. It’s anyone’s guess what her true age is. Paleontologists may hold the answer.

No matter. Using ancient mugshots is indicative only of the woman’s overweening vanity, which is the least of her crimes. But what she does and says matters a great deal because millions of Christian/Republican numbskulls will hang on her every word. Described here as “an education policy analyst, curriculum specialist, and historian,” Haynes wrote on her website in October, 2021:

In their extreme fear of losing power, the Biden communist regime has gone a step too far to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives – even taking political prisoners, torture, and murder.

We will not be silenced or bullied into submission.We do not have to submit to a tyrannical government nor do we have to use their politically correct language. It’s urgent that we band together in large numbers and continue to stand against tyranny before it’s too late.

It’s clear that public education is totally about dumbing down, sexualizing, and creating a Red Guard like that in Mao’s Cultural Revolution to terrorize the American people.

The survival of America as a free nation depends upon getting students out of this communist mind control environment. The current actions of the Biden administration may well trigger an even greater number of parents walking away from government education.

Around the same time she confirmed her monumental stupidity on Twitter:

Ironically, her site’s banner has the temerity to use a Nelson Mandela quote:

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

I offer her a quote that far better reflects her worldview:

… I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity … We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – Adolf Hitler.

Haynes’ quotation is doubly ironic because Mandela would vehemently have opposed everything this posturing neo-fascist represents. As South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Mandela signed into law a constitution that stood for the rights of all.

Chapter 9 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa says:

The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since the Civil Union Act came into force on 30 November, 30 2006.

Image via YouTube/Oprah Winfrey show

In his inauguration speech in 1994, Mandela heralded the country’s re-entry onto the world stage, saying it should become “a rainbow nation” that would never again be seen as “the skunk of the world.”

He said:

It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.

Clearly, Haynes can be counted among those who do not.

In October last year, according to the Christian Post, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland over a memorandum calling for greater federal involvement in investigating threats made against school boards and teachers.

The American Freedom Law Center, a conservative legal group, is representing an unincorporated association of parents with children enrolled in a public school district in Saline, Michigan.

The lawsuit argues that the October 4 Garland memorandum calling on federal agencies to work with states on “strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff” is politically driven overreach aimed at silencing parents who express valid objections to certain ideas being in the curriculum.

Contrary to the Attorney General’s false assertion, there is no widespread criminality at school board meetings where parents and concerned citizens have expressed their opposition and outrage to the ‘progressive’ agenda being forced upon their children in the public schools.

Yet, the Attorney General considers these private citizens engaging in constitutionally protected activity to be domestic terrorists. Accordingly, the Attorney General labels these private citizens, which includes Plaintiffs, as domestic terrorists.

While the Attorney General himself did not explicitly liken concerned parents and community members to domestic terrorists, a September 29 letter from the National School Boards Association compared threats and harassment against school board members to “domestic terrorism.”

In his memo, Garland said that there was a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.

CP added:

Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.

Garland’s vow to take action against ‘efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views’ comes as parents and community members have repeatedly confronted school boards in recent months over sexually explicit material available in school libraries or material included in school curriculums.

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....