May 9, 2014

World’s Best Dad arrested while protesting his daughter’s “triple-X-rated” reading assignment


Jodi Picoult's novel of a mass school shooting has prompted outrage in New Hampshire for what one parent calls "triple-X-rated" material

Jodi Picoult’s novel of a mass school shooting has prompted outrage in New Hampshire for what one parent calls “triple-X-rated” material

A father in Gilford, NH was arrested for disorderly conduct at a school board meeting, while protesting the sexual content in Jodi Picoult‘s Nineteen Minutes, which had been assigned to his high school daughter.  After using up his alloted two minutes to register his complaints about the book, William Baer continued speaking and interrupting other parents, refusing to be quiet (or in the words of WND, “be quiet,” quotation marks theirs), and was eventually led out and put in handcuffs. As Wonkette described the scene:

It’s a chilling vision of sex-soaked filthy Nazi fascism in Obama’s America, as a jackbooted police officer brutally smashes the Constitution into the ground and then machineguns Thomas Jefferson’s corpse and the First Amendment means NOTHING anymore. That, or an angry parent who refused to stop interrupting a school board meeting was arrested for disorderly conduct and released on bail shortly afterward. But it’s definitely one of those two.

Baer is upset that no parental consent was required for students to be assigned Nineteen Minutes, which in Baer’s view, is “like the transcript for a triple-X-rated movie.” Nineteen Minutes is a 445 page novel about a school shooting, and contains 4 pages of sexual material. The school acknowledged that this was an oversight; the book has been assigned since 2007 and a consent form is usually sent home. The form was overlooked this year.

The passage that Baer, and a few other parents, objects to is a scene of a girl, at the least, being coerced into unprotected sex by her boyfriend. (“Wait,” Josie said, trying to roll away beneath him, but he clamped his hand over her mouth and drove harder and harder until Josie felt him come.) Rape, or date rape, or coercion, is never mentioned in any of the parents’ complaints. Apparently, this is standard issue sexy stuff that high schoolers shouldn’t read.

Again, this is a date rape scene being described by a scandalized parent as “pornographic material” depicting “rough sex .” Not only that, but Baer told WND (formerly known as World Net Daily) that the book “goes on-on-on after the sex scene, talking about the girl getting pregnant and wanting to have an abortion.” Obviously, consequences should never be discussed. In summary, as it appears to me: mass school shooting = okay; coercion = okay; sex and its consequences = absolutely not okay.

The school board is taking steps to appease the angry parents.

After the board meeting, the school district issued a statement apologizing for the notification screwup and announcing that it would revise its policies for controversial material; instead of giving parents the choice of opting out of their kids’ reading potentially offensive works, all parents would have to give permission before students read such material. The school would also give more details about potentially worrisome material.

According to local TV station WMUR, Baer isn’t satisfied.

At the school board meeting Monday, Baer was given two minutes to voice his concerns, which Baer called insulting.

“It was basically, you make a statement, say what you want and sit down,” he said. “Sit down and shut up, basically, and that’s not how you interact with adults.”

Baer said he believes what happened at the meeting was a violation of his First Amendment rights. The board said it imposed the two-minute rule to give everyone a chance to be heard, but Baer refused to stop when his time was up.

Baer plans to fight his arrest, which could result in a fine. For her part, Picoult is staying strong, tweeting “Trying to channel @judyblume this week, who has been such an inspiration when it comes to books that are being challenged.”


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.