Sarah Palin, would-be book banner

For the most part, this blog isn’t intended as a political forum—its primary purpose has been, and will remain, the critical discussion of books, music, and movies. That said: it’s an election year, and I’m married to a public policy grad student, and I just plain feel compelled to comment on one particular tidbit of news that came to my attention this morning via Bookninja, Tame the Web, and All have spotted something distressing about Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin buried in a recent Time magazine article about her. From the article (as highlighted at

[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

That’s right: Palin wanted to remove books from the shelves of the local library, and apparently because she didn’t like the fact that some books sometimes use bad words.

Any attempt to ban books or in any way limit people’s freedom to read what they choose runs directly counter to my values as a reader, writer, and librarian. And the idea of a book banner in power the White House sends a shiver down my spine. Supporters of book banning fail to understand some of the fundamental ideas underlying American democracy: they are opponents of free expression, and as such cannot be trusted with power. Also, in the article, Stein alleges that Palin wanted to see the librarian fired for refusing to ban books, which suggests that she might be intolerant of any kind of dissent when wielding executive power. And we all know how well the Bush administration’s secretiveness, resistance to outside ideas, and stubborn insistence on loyalty and consistency in the face of all evidence to the contrary has worked for the country the past seven years.

It’s also come to my attention that Palin is a supporter of “intelligent design” theory, and would like to see it taught in public schools. This is another deeply discouraging sign—it suggests to me that under a McCain/Palin administration, we couldn’t expect to see a reversal of Bush’s manipulation, suppression, abuse, and misuse of scientific information.

8 Responses to “Sarah Palin, would-be book banner”

  1. 1 alpinmack September 3, 2008 at 10:08 AM

    As a big reader, that is dissapointing. I do not want books banned no matter how bad they may seem to certain people.

    However, as a Christian, I don’t see the huge problem with Intelligent Design. Evolution is still just a theory. A widely accepted theory. I’m not sure how I.D. would be taught, maybe it doesn’t need to be, but I think it could be mentioned as an alternative. I am interested in science and consider myself to be relatively intelligent. I don’t refuse all elements of evolution but I think it takes more faith to believe the universe was created by some explosion out of nothing than if it was created. Even Stephan Hawking who is one of the world’s most prominant physicists proved/ admitted that there had to be something there to begin with. Couldn’t that something be God?

  2. 2 goodreadings September 3, 2008 at 10:23 AM

    Thanks for your comment. And I agree that it’s important to stop books from being banned, no matter what their content is, or no matter what we might object to in it. Any good library should contain many, many books full of content that I strongly disagree with—a key part of the role of the library is exposing people to ideas that are unlike their own.

    As for Intelligent Design: I definitely can’t agree with you on this one. Though, like Hawking, I find it difficult to imagine a universe in which there was ever truly “nothing,” I also recognize that the universe might well contain wonders far beyond my imagination. I’d have to be quite the egoist to believe that what I myself can understand is the full measure of what is possible in the universe. Further, even if I were to unquestioningly trust my limited understanding and instincts and argue that there must have been an initial “something” out of which the universe came into being, it simply does not logically follow that that “something” must be God. You’re right that it’s possible that it could be God—but your logic doesn’t preclude the idea of the “something” being anything else at all. There’s nothing in your argument that points to God specifically as being the best explanation.

    As for faith: I don’t think scientific accounts of the origins of life or the universe really do require leaps of faith. No one in science claims to have a full and complete understanding of how the universe began; instead, numerous scientists have offered theoretical models, and have debated those models over the years (and centuries) in the light of observable evidence. No scientific proponent of the Big Bang theory or of evolution will insist that you must believe in those things by faith; instead, they’ll ask you to look at the evidence they’ve amassed, and accept or reject the theory to the degree that it matches your understanding of the world. Personally, I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t know how the universe began; and I’m also very much convinced by the large preponderance of evidence that supports the theory of evolution as a scientific explanation for the origins of life on earth. Faith simply doesn’t come into it for me.

  3. 3 Jason September 3, 2008 at 1:43 PM

    A few thoughts in regards to Alpinmack’s comment:

    1) Alpinmack’s definition of evolution. What Alpinmack actually is talking about is evolution in a metaphysical sense…a concept of evolution which includes origins of the universe. Strictly speaking, evolution is a biological science (hence evolutionary biology) and has nothing to say about the origins of the universe…that is a matter for school earth sciences, physics or astronomy classes. Although the big bang theory will probably be mentioned in a high school biology class, probably in reference to the age of the earth or life on earth, if this field is portrayed correctly, there should certainly be no pretext that evolution, as a science, says anything about who/what is responsible for the origins of the universe. The study of evolution begins with the origins of life, not the origin of the universe; it is the study of how species change over time. People may decide, after learning about evolution that it has implications for the existence or God or the origins of the universe, but such things are not statements made by evolution as a science (although scientists such as Richard Dawkins may say such things when expressing their personal beliefs). This is an important distinction because high school science classes should not be having discussions about the origins of the universe and the existence of God. They should be learning the mechanisms of and evidence for evolution and its historical path. The mere fact that ID even concerns itself with the big bang and origins of the universe while arguing for even time with evolution in biology classrooms should be the first hint that ID is a metaphysical, not scientific position.

    2) Alpinmack seems to confuse scientific and colloquial definitions of the word theory. In science, a theory is an idea or hypothesis that has been tested and affirmed repeatedly in many different circumstances. Thus, scientists have enough confidence in it to use a term which is stronger than ‘idea’ or ‘hypothesis’. Scientists also refer to a ‘theory of gravity’ or ‘atomic theory’ (i.e. that all matter is composed of atoms), but people don’t object to these as ‘just theories.’ Again, it is the metaphysical implications of evolution, not the scientific statements of evolution that the commenter seems to be objecting to.

    3) ID is really a metaphysical point of view with pseudo-scientific window dressing. As a Christian, the commenter might be surprised to learn that, officially, advocates of intelligent design do not specify, who the ‘designer’ they feel life on earth suggests exists (although most ID supporters are also Christians). But by any religion’s definition, God is a supernatural entity, meaning God is not constrained by natural laws (i.e. gravity, speed of light, etc.). Science, by definition, only deals with natural phenomena (all science is based on the concept of ‘methodological naturalism’) because they are repeatedly measurable. The task which ID sets for itself…scientifically demonstrating God’s existence and/or God’s role in life’s history…is at least futile, if not impossible. Even if science could measure supernatural phenomena, what hope is there for explaining them in scientific/naturalistic terms? That’s like trying to verbally describe different colors to a blind person; there just isn’t the correct language or terms to do it adequately. Science is simply not a means for understanding the supernatural.

    4). There is a term for what the commenter may to be arguing for…theistic evolution. This is the position that evolution, as scientifically described, does (and has) happened, that life is billions of years old, that the big bang actually happened…but that God is in charge of the process. This is similar to deism, where God is a clockmaker who got the universe started and set up the ‘rules’ it operates by.

  4. 4 Roberta Williams September 3, 2008 at 4:23 PM

    I hate to say it, but I am not surprised that Palin has this very frightening history. We all must do whatever we can to insure that our constitutional rights are protected. I cannot imagine a world where books are banned and theology is taught anywhere other than in religion classes. If schools want to present religious ideas, it should be in the context of a study of various faiths without judgement as to the “correct” faith. This is a personal matter. We all have the right to believe or not believe anything in this country. This is the essence of our Constitution. Everyone is respected and no one is forced to follow a certain religion.

  5. 5 Bard September 4, 2008 at 8:05 AM

    Have to put in: she does not, in fact, support intelligent design taught in schools – she just sees nothing wrong with an off-topic debate thereof. Actually, she’s pretty good about compartmentalizing her religious views in general when it comes to public policy:

    The book-ban thing, though, seems disturbingly legit.

  6. 6 Robert Thompson September 5, 2008 at 1:20 PM

    Did Sarah have a list of specific books? I visited a web site that gave a long list but it seems a bit preposterous. Does anyone know if there was a list or not? The principle would be the same if she had specific books or just a general criteria for censorship. It would be revealing (of the depth of her twisted thinking) if she wanted to censor certain ideas or just offensive (in her opinion) words.

  7. 7 goodreadings September 5, 2008 at 2:53 PM

    Apparently somebody posted a false list of titles to the comment threads at Other folks there quickly pointed out that the list was had nothing to do with Palin, but by that point various naive and trusting folks had already picked the list up and distributed it around the blogosphere. So: as far as I’ve heard, there’s no actual list of titles—it’s just that Palin approached the town’s librarian with the intent of getting books removed from the library.

    But: as you said, the principle is the same either way–it’s wrong no matter what book(s) you want to ban.

  8. 8 Ben Gross September 10, 2008 at 2:08 PM

    Without knowing the exact titles of the books Mrs. Palin was trying to ban, we are left to speculate. Perhaps it was an illustrated version of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. God save our youth from heroin addicted child lusting beatniks.

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