Carroll Co. 'honored' for banning history text Free speech group gives school board its 'Muzzle'

April 12, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

It isn't the kind of honor anyone is supposed to want, but the Carroll County school board president is flattered the county has received an award for banning books.

The Jefferson Muzzle Award, from a University of Virginia First Amendment organization called the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, was given because of the board's decision last year to reject a fifth-grade book perceived as anti-Christian.

It is the first national recognition of what is an annual practice in Carroll -- banning or limiting the use of books.

"In Carroll County, getting an honor like this can improve one's stature with the public, because Carroll County citizens are conservative," said board President Joseph D. Mish Jr.

CBS Television, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution were among the other winners this year.

In July, the Carroll County school board banned "Around the World in a Hundred Years: Henry the Navigator--Magellan," by Jean Fritz. The book passed a parent screening committee for use by fifth-graders, but was rejected unanimously by board members after Mr. Mish called it to their attention.

"The board deemed [the] book 'anti-Christian' because the author interpreted the burning by Christians of the royal library in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 4th century as evidence that Christians of that era did not believe in scholarship," a Jefferson Center release said.

Mr. Mish stood by his decision and said this week he believed the book had "sweeping generalizations" in more than one passage.

"They're dealing with my field of expertise," said Mr. Mish, a retired history teacher. "I resent a politically correct history from the right or the left. There was a general sense in the book that Europeans were responsible for the African slave trade. The slave trade was going on in Africa long before the Europeans were ever there."

The center's board believed the Carroll school board's decision was a case of not agreeing with an author's valid interpretation of history, said Robert M. O'Neil, the founding director of the center since stepping down as University of Virginia president in 1990.

And lest anyone accuse the center of being anti-Christian, one of this year's Muzzle Awards went to Patrick J. McGann, a New Jersey judge who prevented publication of a newsletter about reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The order was requested by Marlboro Township authorities who said they were overburdened by pilgrims visiting the home of the resident having the apparitions.

The other awards this year went to:

CBS for not broadcasting a "60 Minutes" interview with a tobacco company whistle-blower because of threatened litigation by the tobacco industry. The interview eventually was broadcast by the network.

The Library of Congress for closing an exhibit on slavery and plantation life after one day because of complaints. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington made arrangements to show the exhibit.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, for changing a controversial exhibit on the Enola Gay bomber after receiving complaints from veterans and members of Congress about the exhibit's questioning of the morality of dropping the atomic bombs on Japan.

Georgette Watson, an anti-drug official in Massachusetts, for encouraging police to bring squad cars to a radio station to protest its support of an organization promoting legalization of marijuana.

A computer crimes task force in Ohio that seized the entire Cincinnati Computer Connection bulletin board looking for 45 pornographic files. The seizure included the personal electronic mail accounts of 5,000 customers.

Since the first round of awards in 1992, the Jefferson Center has chosen at least one school case among the handful of winners. In previous years, Muzzles have been awarded to school boards for banning Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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