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  • Rev. Dr. Dennis S. Ritter

Pornography? Really?

If somebody had told me just a few years ago that I would feel the need to defend our school district and especially our librarians, teachers and administrators against the charge that they were introducing pornography into our schools, I would have laughed and maybe even told the person they were crazy. Yet, here we are, and here I am doing just that.

As most people know by now there are opposing slates of candidates for the 5 school board seats in our district that are on the ballot this election cycle. The candidates backed by the “Kids First PAC” have chosen to make the charge of pornography in the schools a major issue in their campaign to win those 5 seats. Who would have thought such a foolish charge ever would have been leveled against KASD? Certainly not me, that I can assure you.

As a father of 2 former students in the district who have grown into amazing young women, wives, and mothers, I have experienced firsthand the quality of our administration, teachers and support staff. Their care for our children in this district is both awesome and legendary. “Bad” teachers have generally not lasted long in KASD for one reason or another. I cannot think of a teacher or administrator that would knowingly or unknowingly subject the children of our district who are in their care to pornographic material. So, why are these candidates for seats on our school board so upset? Why would they choose to send out the letters they have sent?

Before I answer those questions, let me venture into an effort to provide some clarity regarding the term pornography.

First, Merriam Webster defines pornography as follows:

“1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement;

2. material (such as books or photographs) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement;

3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”

Having read at least one of the books in question, namely Gender Queer, which came under fire last year by some members of the community, I can categorically tell you without reservation that the few scenes of a sexual nature included in this coming-of-age memoir of a nonbinary individual written and illustrated in a graphic novel style are not pornographic in any way. They are simply a portrayal of the experiences of a young person who seeks to share their experience of discovering that they were not at home in the gender they were born into. Some of the depicted experiences are described as uncomfortable and even unpleasant by the individual. To me, and others who know far more than me, this is not a pornographic book.

Second, let’s look at what the Supreme Court, the highest court in our country, has had to say in this regard. Here the term is no longer pornography but obscenity. In Miller v. California (1973) the Court redefined its definition of obscenity from that of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to that which lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” In addition, it created a three-part test called the Miller Test which reads as follows:

  1. A thing must be prurient in nature.

  2. A thing must be completely devoid of scientific, political, educational or social value.

  3. A thing must violate the local community standards.

In essence what the court said is that for something to be deemed obscene the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the work appeals on the whole to Prurient interests; describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Thus, for a thing to be pornographic it must “on the whole” not just in part or in a few texts or pictures taken out of context violate all three of the standards/points in the Miller Test. Again, I can categorically say that Gender Queer doesn’t even come close to being obscene/pornographic as is being claimed, and from what I have read and heard regarding All Boys Aren’t Blue (a memoir by George M. Johnson who writes about growing up black and queer), it isn’t obscene/pornographic either. I have this on pretty good authority, namely my younger daughter who has worked in the field of children’s literature since she earned her master’s degree in the field from Simmons University in Boston.

So, if neither of these works even come close to being obscene/pornographic, why are the other 5 candidates and those who support them calling them such and so exercised over them? This is the reason I suspect, and until proven wrong choose to believe, they wish to deny the existence of the types of people who wrote them and whom they portray; namely members of the LGBTQ+ community. They wish such people didn’t exist and by banning their ability to share their stories, by attacking and eventually banning their books as obscene, they can continue to pretend that such individuals don’t exist.

However, such individuals do exist, and they have existed for decades, centuries – yes, possibly since the beginning of human time. Biology is not purely binary as some have claimed, and it never has been. Back in biology class in high school I learned that asexual reproduction happens and that X and Y chromosomes don’t always behave as they “are supposed to”.

I must admit that I don’t have all the answers or even fully understand what the Queer community experiences or endures, but I know this that when I read the Scriptures, and as a pastor I do so quite a lot, I hear time and again God and Christ calling me to live out an unconditional love for all of God’s children. I hope and believe that that is all that matters.

So, there it is. There is no pornography taking up valuable space on our district’s library shelves, and no one is indoctrinating anybody to be anything or anyone but who God intended them to be.

That’s the view from where I am. Others can choose to agree or disagree. That’s up to them. The last time I looked, we were a free country.

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