During the lead-up to election we have heard a lot of people talking about the Constitution. Some talk quietly and in measured tones, but we have also heard it shouted about in public spaces.

Fortunately, we remain free under this important document; one we in the newspaper business use every day. For review, the First Amendment to the Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.”

While it has been an argument about one book in one high school library, the decision of the RSU 40 school board against banning a controversial book is an important one from a constitutional perspective. This board made the right call in deciding not to ban “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe.

It was not an easy call. Board members have been placed under strong public pressure. They have had to listen to lengthy testimony and they have had to do their work under a public microscope. Few of us in the cheap seats would trade with them.

The issue is a First Amendment one all the way around. The book represents free speech, the people opposing it in some cases are exercising their religious beliefs and petitioning the government.

The easiest way to make the argument against banning “Gender Queer,” which is frank on subjects that make people uncomfortable and which includes images that challenge our preconceived notions, is to take this book out of the equation for a moment.

Let’s suppose we ban “Gender Queer” today. What will be banned tomorrow, and who gets to decide what is offensive or obscene or “goes too far”? Do you want government to decide this for you? Through the First Amendment it already has, but what a vulnerable freedom this is. How easy it is to argue that these long-dead men who wrote the Constitution and approved the Bill of Rights had no idea how this document would be applied.

What would James Madison think of “Gender Queer”?

Those who would cast stones, answer this: What do you watch for movies? What do you read? What do you search on the Internet? Could any of it be argued to be offensive, violent, anti-authority, too controversial?

One can argue that we are talking about children instead of adults, but we are talking about high school students, not young children. What do your children have access to on their cell phones and how does that compare with “Gender Queer”?

This is not a new argument. It has been waged over comic books, speeches, song lyrics, hidden messages on records, role-playing games, movies, TV shows, rap records and even Harry Potter.

Pen America is an organization that tracks censorship and book banning and seeks to protect free expression. It notes on its site, “In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1969 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’”

Banning books is a slippery slope. Today it may be “Gender Queer,” tomorrow it could be something you care about. It is a power we have chosen not to turn over to our government.

Turning back to “Gender Queer,” we support the availability of this book in particular. Representation matters and this book is a lifeline for some students, letting them know they are not alone. It promotes awareness for everyone who reads it. Those who do not like it, or who find it offensive, are free not to read it.

We do not need our friends and neighbors telling us which choice to make, even when their intensions are good.

The Courier-Gazette editorial board collaborates on an editorial regarding a topic of interest or community concern.