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This is about protecting our youth: Bruce Friedman shares his story

Posted 1/11/24

I had the chance to meet with Bruce Friedman, the man who has overwhelmingly led the charge to challenge books in Clay County public schools. This isn’t an attack against free speech, he said. This is about removing pornography from school libraries...

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This is about protecting our youth: Bruce Friedman shares his story


Posted

This is a three-part editorial series where I navigate the multiple sides of the Clay County “book ban” debate. I had the chance to meet with Bruce Friedman, the man who has overwhelmingly led the charge to challenge books in Clay County public schools. This isn’t an attack against free speech, he said. This is about removing pornography from school libraries. This is about protecting our youth.

Bruce Friedman is a walking testament to the influence a single citizen can possess in Clay County. Friedman was the concerned, tenacious parent who captured national attention when his microphone was cut off at a school board meeting in 2022. It happened again at last October’s school board meeting. He was cut off attempting to read a passage from “Heroine” by Mindy McGinnis.

“See if you can guess the word that all of these excerpts have in common…”

“Mr. Friedman… we do have children in the audience,” said a board member. “I’m just going to ask at this point that you refrain from any profanity or obscene language.”

“I am going to read from this book. You have the right to turn off my microphone. In which case this book, as per HB 1069, is ejected from consideration further.”    

His microphone was silenced, he smiled at the two Clay County District School police officers, went outside for a quick smoke and returned to his seat without incident, he said.

The HB 1069 law he referenced states “parents shall have the right to read passages from any material that is subject to an objection. If the school board denies a parent the right to read passages (from the material), the school district shall discontinue the use of the material.”

However, “Heroine” is still accessible in Clay County public schools.

Friedman has championed the removal of hundreds of sexually explicit books violating FS 847 and has been vigilant to submit an appeal for every single book that was placed back on shelves. His effort to challenge books has been unparalleled not just in Clay County, but in the nation’s history.

He returned November to the next meeting. He said that he had dropped off 116 appeals to challenged books that have been placed back into circulation. This would put the total numbers of appending appeals at approximately 400, he said.

“You’ve addressed zero of them (the appeals). In particular, the book (“Heroine”) that I tried to read from last month. Everyone is aware of the content of that book and its nature. I don’t think it was necessarily inappropriate for anyone to turn off my microphone. The content is vile. Protecting children from that seemed appropriate. Yet, the book remains on the shelves.”

By having his microphone cut off, Friedman proved his point.

“I find the whole thing somewhere between ironic and fascinating.”

In the last 18 months, Friedman has single-handedly submitted over 600 book challenges – a number more than a challenge per day –  and over 400 appeals. With every school board meeting, he adds to the growing burden of paperwork that, as required by current CCDS policies, the school board must address. Additionally, he has amassed a following of supporters. He is a national figure in many ways, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s not about me,” he said in an interview. “Many of these (books) are porn that slipped through the cracks of prior failed policies. Our children deserve better.”

This is not an attack on education, he said. This is standing up against an attack on young, impressionable minds. This is about standing up against the grooming of children in our public schools, he said.

Friedman says his zealousness comes from a love of books, not from hatred. He says he's too busy to hate anyone. He reads historical nonfiction and ancient linguistics, his favorite being Egyptian hieroglyphics. Friedman is someone who understands that history and language hold immense power, especially in the development of young minds.

“We are in first place,” said Friedman during a school board meeting last year. “Clay County has removed more books than any other county in Florida. There have been more challenges than any other county in Florida. That will continue until you (the school board) create a rubric and a guideline.” 

For Friedman, this isn’t about merely pulling inappropriate books off shelves. This is about holding an administration accountable and setting forth a concrete procedure in place and in writing so that the responsibility does not fall on ordinary parents like him.

“Who are the gatekeepers for the books on the library shelves in the Clay system?” asked one parent at a school board meeting last September.

“We don’t typically respond to questions,” a school board member responded.

“Well, they’re on the shelf… How do you reconcile the book (’Heroine’ by Mindy McGinnis) with the word ‘f—’ 46 times? Where is the academia in that?” the parent said.

“Common sense is being missed in our county,” said another parent at another school board meeting. “If I can’t give (a book) to a kid at a park, then it shouldn’t be in a school library.”

“This has been going on for over a year, and we’re no further ahead than we were a year ago. Except for a year ago, some people on the board were denying that books contained porn were in our schools. We now know, in fact, we have books that have violated statute FS 847, and unfortunately there’s probably more in our school that haven’t been challenged yet,” said one resident at a school board meeting last June.

Friedman believes that parents lack true informed consent when they sign a permission slip for their children to read books from Clay County public schools.

“When parents are asked to sign a permission slip, have they been told that 300 blatantly pornographic titles have already been removed from our school libraries and that the culling of such grotesque and inappropriate material is not nearly complete? Do they understand that, by the laws of probability, allowing them access to the library will almost ensure the kids discover inappropriate material?”

Friedman emphasized that this is not “book banning” because books can still be freely purchased from private stores and acquired from public libraries. This is about removing access to age inappropriate material from minors.

“Many things need fixing. The libraries are going to be cleaned up. I otherwise simply won't rest. (And to the point of parents’ rights) Those other parents don't have the right to pollute our school libraries with their madness. If they want to give crap to their kids, find a public library, all the same crap is there too.”

Friedman said that there needs to be detailed approved community guidelines that prevent further contamination of our libraries and children, and that these guidelines must be enforceable and promptly incorporated into policy and procedure so that the CCDS can clean up the rest of the mess that has been created by years of complacency and lack of oversight.

“That's why we need community standards. To restrict purchasers from spending OUR taxes to harm OUR children. To TELL THEM ALL how WE WANT THEM to decide such things. Most parents do not want porn given to children. The purchasers et al – THEY work for US. Clearly, they need more oversight.”

If you want to learn more about Bruce Friedman and his ongoing endeavor, visit his website at http://wethepeople2.us/inappropriate-books-in-school/.

If you want to voice your opinion, Clay County District Schools is hosting an open forum to discuss the district's new media policy. It will be held at the Teacher Learning Center at Orange Park High on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m.