COLUMBUS — Today the ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to the Buckeye Valley Board of Education on behalf of children’s book author Jason Tharp, who was denied the opportunity to read his book, It’s Okay to be a Unicorn!, to students at Buckeye Valley West Elementary at a planned presentation, after school board officials deemed the content to be pro-LGBTQ+ in its viewpoint. Based on available information, the book has also been removed and/or banned from the library collection. These actions, apparently taken in haste in response to ill-informed complaints by a handful of parents and school board members, violate Mr. Tharp’s and Buckeye Valley West students’ First Amendment rights.
The ACLU of Ohio calls on Buckeye Valley Local Schools to:
- Reverse any bans or restrictions on Mr. Tharp’s book and replace any copies that were removed from the school library;
- Adopt and enforce a policy preventing discrimination on the basis of viewpoint in library book acquisition and retention, where the book contains no age-inappropriate content;
- Adopt and enforce a similar policy with regard to guest speakers.
“Buckeye Valley censored Mr. Tharp’s speech because a few school board members and parents opposed what they perceived to be a pro-LGBTQ+ viewpoint. That is an egregious violation of both his First Amendment rights, and the rights of the students who were there to hear him,” noted David Carey, Deputy Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Students of all ages have a right to a full learning experience that allows them to think for themselves. Their libraries must be free from arbitrary censorship based on the opinions of a few officials. This type of book ban is on the rise across the country, and we take this matter incredibly seriously.”
The book conveys an age-appropriate message of inclusion, empathy, and embracing differences. In It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn!, the brightly illustrated main character learns to embrace that a unicorn need not hide his horn merely because it sets him apart from the horses around him. Public records obtained by the ACLU of Ohio reveal that a school board member had the following complaint, “We are telling kids that ‘being gay is ok’? Elementary school? My second grader? And wear clothes to create a rainbow? What the devil? Are we out of our minds?” Another declared, “These types of things are exactly what we have been fighting against.”
“Mr. Tharp’s books convey values of kindness, inclusion, empathy and self-empowerment. As should be obvious, nothing in the book contains any age-inappropriate content, and there is no legitimate basis for removing it,” concluded Carey.
The ACLU of Ohio will pursue appropriate legal action if the school fails to adequately remedy this issue.
A copy of the letter is available below.