Roxana M. Russo Caivano, a high school librarian in Morris County, is suing four township residents for defamation after they allegedly labeled her a “child predator” and accused her of “luring children with sexually explicit materials.”
The lawsuit claims that the defendants’ activity has gone beyond criticism of books in the library, using social media, appearances at school board meetings, and other interactions to tarnish her reputation.
The defendants are active with a website called Roxbury Parental Rights in Education, which publicizes school materials that they deem overly sexual and inappropriate for students.
The website claims that there are books in Roxbury Public High School that are “pornography, obscenity, pervasively vulgar” and not age or school appropriate.
While some may argue that parents who don’t like certain books in the library can make sure their children don’t read them, Caivano claims that the defendants’ actions go beyond criticism of the books and amount to libel and slander per se. She argues that as a private individual, she has greater legal protection against public attacks than public officials.
The defendants’ lawyer, Corinne Mullen, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, questioning why a librarian would sue parents over an issue that should be openly debated in the public domain and at a BOE meeting.
Mullen argued that seeking to silence parents is at odds with citizens’ rights to act in an informed democracy. The statement also noted that the issue of books in public schools is raging across the nation and breaking along political lines, with conservatives complaining about books and liberals defending them on free speech grounds.
The case highlights the ongoing national debate over books in public schools and raises questions about freedom of speech and the boundaries of public criticism.
Republicans have used controversial issues such as books in public schools to gain political support. In recent years, some Republicans have sought to appeal to puritanical parents who oppose certain books or curricula in public schools on the grounds that they are inappropriate or morally objectionable.
By tapping into bigoted emotions, such as fear and anger, they have exploited these parents’ concerns for political gain.
These politicians have framed their arguments as being about protecting children and preserving traditional values, and have accused liberals and Democrats of promoting a radical agenda that threatens those values.
This approach has been successful in mobilizing some segments of the population and creating a sense of urgency around such issues, although the free exchange of ideas and the right of individuals to make their own choices about what they read or learn are basic American values.
Some parents who object books or curricula that their children are exposed to in public schools may have legitimate concerns that deserve to be heard and addressed in a thoughtful and respectful manner, but as the Caivano case evolves demonstrates, there are malicious activities that go beyond normal debate over a public issue.
Book burning is antithetical to American values because it violates some of the fundamental principles upon which the country was founded. In particular, book burning goes against the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the open exchange of ideas.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of speech and the press, which means that individuals have the right to express their ideas and opinions without fear of censorship or persecution. This protection extends to books and other forms of written material. When books are burned, this freedom is violated, and ideas are suppressed.
In addition, book burning is often associated with censorship and authoritarianism. When governments or other groups burn books, it is often done to silence dissenting voices and control the flow of information. This is a tactic that has been used by totalitarian regimes throughout history to maintain their power and control over the population.
Furthermore, book burning is often associated with intolerance and bigotry. Historically, books have been burned because they were considered to be morally objectionable or offensive to certain groups. This type of censorship is often based on religious or ideological beliefs and is used to impose those beliefs on others.
In contrast, American values prioritize the importance of intellectual freedom, individual rights, and a diverse range of ideas and perspectives. The United States is a country that values the open exchange of ideas and the right of individuals to read and think for themselves. Book burning is contrary to these values and represents a threat to the free and open society that Americans cherish.