Update: For Prof. Volokh's response, see April 19 entry - Mary
A UNC law professor father is upset about a library book, Journey to Japan, in his daughter's public school library being used for extra credit and asks for the book's removal. He is disturbed by the book's religious perspective, which can be viewed as proselytizing Christianity or as anti-Buddhist and anti-Shinto. He argues:
How could it not violate the Constitution for a public elementary school to single out and recommend a book series whose overt lesson is that conversion to Christianity is desirable and that safety resides in a decision "to follow only Jesus?"
What is interesting about the surrounding debate is the focus on the Establishment Clause at the expense of discussing Pico, the Supreme Court case which discusses the standard for removing public school library materials. Despite the active comment thread, there seems to be a lack of comments from librarians or teachers.
While the debate about this book's potential removal focuses on the Establishment Clause, Pico is only mentioned once -- and quite dismissively. Eugene Volokh, UCLA law professor says that:
I don't think removing a book from a school library is properly called "banning," and I don't think it should be seen as violating the First Amendment (notwithstanding the opinion of four Justices in Board of Ed. v. Pico (1982)).
He argues elsewhere that Pico does not set any precedent because the decision was made by a four Justice plurality.
The Pico Justices differed in setting the limits of the school board discretion in book removal decisions. Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens (the plurality) wrote: "Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion(citation omitted).'" Justice Blackmun concurred that school boards may not remove books from school libraries for the purpose of restricting access to political ideas or social perspectives.
Justice White, the fifth vote, upheld the Second Circuit's decision to remand for trial, based on the undetermined facts... the "reasons underlying the school board's removal of the books." Although Justice White refused to explicitly address constitutional limits on school board discretion, his concurrence with the plurality to remand the case only makes sense if there are are First Amendement limits on school board discretion in library book removal. If there were not, then there would be no factual issue, and the dissenters' view, leaving all removal decisions to the discretion of the school board, would carry the day.
Dissenter Justices Burger, Powell, Rehnquist, and O'Connor would have left all removal and acquisition decisions to the discretion of the school board because "values of morality, good taste, and relevance to education are valid reasons for school board decisions concerning the contents of a school library."