INDIANAPOLIS — The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is pushing back against a group's effort to restrict access to the author's novel "Slaughterhouse-Five" from a Florida school district.
Its solution? To donate up to 1,000 copies of the book to students there.
"Slaughterhouse-Five" is a science fiction novel. A fictionalized telling of Vonnegut's experience as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany in World War II. The book has a strong anti-war message.
Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO of the museum, believes the message of the book is important for older students to read.
“It’s his war story," Whitehead said. "There are messages in there that he wanted to convey about the dangers of war. But there are also incredible stories about compassion. We’re not sending it to elementary school students. This is a book that most teachers have decided is good content for our high school students to read.”
Whitehead said she's using this as an opportunity to share the book and wants to chat with the groups.
She wrote to the nonprofit Moms for Liberty in an open letter requesting a meeting to discuss the organization's challenge of the book at Brevard Public Schools in Brevard, Fla. The letter was shared to the museum's Twitter account Monday.
"You have misunderstood the meaning of the word 'liberty.' Removing someone else's privilege of reading a book is an act that is worthy of rebellion," Whitehead wrote in the letter. "But we don't actually have to rebel because these are our rights as Americans. We simply have to help the school officials and elected officials to understand that the Constitution is our law of the land."
.@Moms4Liberty successfully got Slaughterhouse-Five banned in a school district in Florida. So it goes.— Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (@VonnegutLibrary) June 7, 2022
In response, we are giving up to 1,000 free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to students who have had it banned.
Read our CEO's message, in cooperation with @TheLewisBlack: pic.twitter.com/5yYGBG4iYX
The tweet claims Vonnegut's novel has already been successfully banned at Brevard Public Schools and that Moms for Liberty has attempted to ban that book and others. WRTV has not been able to verify that claim.
The nonprofit group's website says it is "dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government" and "ready to fight those that stand in the way of liberty."
In a May 20 Facebook post, the group claims its efforts were not about banning books, but challenging their age appropriateness.
"All we want is for content that violates child obscenity laws to be removed from SCHOOL libraries, and for the books that are not found to violate those laws to require some form of consent from parents that would provide more transparency as to the subjects contained within the text," the post states.
Ashley Hall, the chair of Moms for Liberty in Brevard, provided the following statement to WRTV via email:
"We are not banning books nor are we making any decisions on this matter. We are challenging some books found in BPS libraries for their age appropriateness for children. Some books we want removed completely because of their explicitly graphic sexual depictions both within the text and illustrations, and some books like Slaughterhouse 5 we want the district to draw a line on what age is appropriate for that book."
Hall claimed the book is available in some middle school libraries and said children as young as 12 should not be able to access it without parental knowledge or consent.
"We have no response to the letter. Individuals can do whatever they would like to do. We are following district procedures for book challenges just as any other person can and has done in the past. The ultimate decision will come down from the committees formed by the district," Hall wrote.
This is not the first time the book has been the subject of banning, as Whitehead explains.
“When we first opened our museum in 2011, we had a similar situation where Vonnegut’s book 'Slaughterhouse-Five' was banned in a school. We immediately went into action and provided free books for students. We worked with the civil liberties union in that state of Missouri.”
In November 1973, copies of the book were burned at a school in North Dakota, according to the museum and History.com.
Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers debated Senate Bill 17, which would have opened the door to prosecution of public libraries and K-12 schools over materials or books considered harmful to minors. It did not receive a final vote.
Whitehead's letter says any Bayside High School student or their parent may request a free copy of "Slaughterhouse-Five" by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The letter also states the museum will continue to receive additional copies of the book and plans to work with its partners to "uphold our Constitutional rights."
WRTV has requested comments from Moms for Liberty and Brevard Public Schools.
The first floor of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum is the Free Expression floor. The third floor is the Slaughterhouse-Five floor. On the first floor, there’s a wall of banned books, where dozens of books that have been challenged or banned are kept.