Jason Tharp is a local children’s book author whose work contains general themes of celebrating differences in people. In April of this year, he was scheduled to visit Buckeye Valley West Elementary school in Ostrander, OH (Delaware County), to present and read his book It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn! to students of multiple grade levels. Shortly before his visit, a Buckeye Valley West parent complained on a Facebook group that she believed Mr. Tharp’s book conveyed a pro-LGBTQ+ message. (Ironically, Mr. Tharp has repeatedly stated that it is not specifically intended to). Multiple school board members who were also in the Facebook group sent messages to the Buckeye Valley School District interim superintendent, demanding that he cancel or change Mr. Tharp’s visit. Their messages expressed outrage that “We are telling kids that ‘being gay is ok’?” and stating “These types of things are exactly what we have been fighting against. Why would we welcome an author who is pushing LGBTQ ideas on our most vulnerable students?” 

Subsequently, and apparently under direction from school district administrators, the Buckeye Valley West principal called Mr. Tharp and instructed him not to read Unicorn during his visit. Mr. Tharp complied.


Students have a First Amendment right to have access to materials in school libraries free of discrimination on the basis of viewpoint. Though some content-based restrictions may be permissible—for example, screening out materials that are not age-appropriate—it is generally impermissible for a public school to remove or ban books not because of their general subject matter, but because of the viewpoint that they espouse within that subject matter. Similarly, there is at least some precedent indicating that a book author’s First Amendment rights are violated when their book is censored in such a way. Finally, though there is some ambiguity in Supreme Court precedent and its application in lower courts, there is substantial support for the idea that an outside speaker like Mr. Tharp has a right to be free of viewpoint discrimination while visiting the school. 


We wrote a letter to Buckeye Valley Board of Education on Mr. Tharp's behalf on July 14, 2022, expressing our First Amendment concerns. The new Superintendent of the school district sent an encouraging reply on August 12, and we responded with an additional letter on August 18. Copies of the correspondence between ACLU of Ohio and Buckeye Valley Local Schools are available below.


David Carey