Beginning in 2022 a new wave of hostility to freedom of thought and inquiry erupted throughout the country, including in Michigan, as right-wing organizations and parents intensified efforts to ban books and materials they disfavored from public libraries and public schools.

Many of the books targeted are those that feature LGBTQ+ characters and themes, as well as issues involving race, poverty, disadvantage, and difference. In November 2022, the ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to superintendents and school board presidents throughout the state, warning that banning books from school libraries based on the ideas expressed in those books would violate the First Amendment, and urging all educators to take a stand in favor of inclusivity, openness, and free inquiry for our youth.

In March 2023, a controversy erupted in Lapeer regarding the availability of the award-winning book Gender Queer: A Memoir in that town’s public library; most troubling were public statements by the county prosecutor suggesting that he would consider bringing criminal charges against the librarian if the book was not removed. The librarian retained us as her criminal defense attorneys, and we wrote the prosecutor a letter condemning his statements and warning him that any effort to take action against the librarian would violate the First Amendment.

Fortunately, in May 2023 the library’s board of directors voted unanimously to keep the book in its collection, and the prosecutor took no action. Meanwhile, in June 2023 we wrote to the Forest Hills Public Schools condemning the superintendent’s unilateral removal of books from the school library based on parents’ complaints, and also urging the school district to reverse a decision to remove books from the first-grade curriculum because the books included a fictional character who was being raised by two moms. Although the library books were returned to the shelves, the curriculum decision has not been reversed.

(ACLU attorneys Jay Kaplan and Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorneys John Shea and Charissa Huang.)