Moms for Liberty has intentionally chosen the Howard County Library System Central Branch Library as a meting venue to help publicize its message. (TBM / Jason Whong)

The Howard County Chapter of Moms for Liberty is targeting 46 books that they say contain sexually explicit images for removal from Howard County Public School System media centers.

Lisa Geraghty, president of the Chapter, said the campaign is not limited to these books, but will eventually expand to include books containing sexually explicit language, as well as gender-related and other ideologies that her organization “absolutely does not agree with.”

The challenge sparked a protest from book ban opponents who disrupted the Howard County Chapter’s February meeting, which was held at the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System and featured speaker Jessica Garland, who led the Carroll County effort as vice chair of the M4L Carroll County Chapter.

“I wanted protestors to come because they are believing a media narrative that is completely false,” Geraghty said of the venue choice. “I wanted to educate them on (our positions) and thought we would be able to find some common ground.”

Protestors packed the meeting room, occupied seats, and heckled speakers during the presentation, according to multiple media reports.

Geraghty said she was disappointed, and that future meetings will continue to be held in public library spaces.

By the book

Jennifer Mallo, chair of the HCPSS Board of Education, said the BOE has dealt with book challenges in the past. The last one came in 2021 and targeted a singular subset of the LGBTQ community.

“One board member questioned the legality of the books, but the board decided against sending it to legal counsel and instead went through the process of establishing a committee to review the books and evaluate their literary merits,” she said. “By and large I’m going to emphasize that we want to follow our established process.”

That committee, consisting of parents, staff and students, concluded that the two books in question did not depict or describe pedophilia and restored the books to the shelves.

Additionally, Mallo said, every piece of instructional material is displayed at the HCPSS Central Office and Howard County public libraries each year, and residents can give feedback and provide input before they are brought forward for approval.

“It would be prohibitive to include every book that’s in the media center, but … there are guidelines for what is approved to go into a media center,” she said.

Differing ideologies?

Moms for Liberty is a national organization that says it works to unify, educate and empower parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government. Geraghty said its members equate social justice ways of thinking to religious ideologies.

“They don’t want nature worship ideology or Satanism ideology or anything else that’s not allowed in [schools],” she said. “Why are they allowing social justice ideologies like gender affirmation, gender ideology, critical race theory, white oppression, BLM (Black Lives Matter), which is Marxist-based, social emotional learning, and all these other ideologies?”

For now, though, the focus is on what M4L has termed illustrative pornography.

Requiring parental consent to check specific books out of the media centers could be a compromise, Geraghty acknowledged, “but even if it’s under lock and key kids can still forge signatures. Our point is you have to draw reasonable boundaries of zero tolerance of any of these woke ideologies. We’re talking about age appropriateness, even our laws say porn is a crime. I don’t think this is a blurry line or something that should be compromised, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

More to the point, she said, is the issue of potentially sidestepping parental rights.

“We don’t think anything that pertains to parental rights belongs in the public square,” Geraghty said. “We as parents have the right to direct the upbringing of our children with our beliefs and values, but unfortunately lawmakers and school board policy makers are foisting their religious ideologies on us.”

According to its mission statement, HCPSS “ensures academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps.”

“It doesn’t really emphasize academics, and that’s what we’re all about,” Geraghty said. “We’re not against other people believing in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion … but you can’t foist that through curriculum and through other ways in the school system.”

She added that M4L’s Howard County Chapter is closely aligned with Stephen Wallis, a former HCPSS middle school principal who ran as an unaffiliated candidate for Howard County Executive in 2006.

“His standards were all about academics and a culture of character,” Geraghty said. “We see the social-emotional well-being and nurturing environment focuses as taking away from the academic focus.”

Emily Bahar, director of multimedia communications for HCPSS, disagreed with that sentiment.

The HCPSS mission statement “acknowledges that well-being and a supportive learning environment are crucial for student achievement,” Bahar said. “Improving student well-being and ensuring all students feel safe, included, and welcomed is part of the school system’s mission and is key to ensuring student engagement and academic success, and is not a religious ideology.”

Informing the narrative       

M4L’s Howard County Chapter members are reviewing the illustrations of each book on their list, and one member has actually read the book “Blankets” by Craig Thompson which is being challenged, but Geraghty acknowledged the group doesn’t have the manpower to read every single book.

“We’re looking for excerpts, and we already had a lot of the work done by Carroll County,” she said.

According to Mallo, the Board agrees that parents should be involved in what their children pick out to read, “but their restriction of their own child should not be the limiting factor for someone else’s child.”

Moreover, she said, the targets of book challenges tend to be the LGBTQ community, which has an exceptionally high rate of suicide.

“Being able to find characters they can see and identify with is critical to their own health and well-being,” Mallo said. “This Board wants students to be able to see diverse characters, learn how to think critically and communicate with other people, and learn from lived experiences.”

As for M4L, “I wish people would know that we’re not political, we support their right to teach their children Satanism or nature worship or whatever they want, and we’re not commenting on that or against it,” Geraghty said. “We’re against any ideology that’s foisted upon our kids, and against allowing pornography in the (school) library that takes my decision not to allow my minor child to view it out of my hands.”

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