The Foundation

 

The Johnson County First Amendment Foundation grew out of a successful lawsuit challenging an attempt to remove an award-winning book from the shelves of a Johnson County, Kansas high school.  The book, Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden, tells the fictional story of a romantic relationship between two high school girls.  Between 1988 and 1993, at least a half-dozen attempts were made to ban the book from public and school libraries from Oregon and California in the West, to Maine in the East, and from Michigan in the North to Texas in the South.  Beginning in 1993, the book received a tumultuous welcome in Kansas.  As one observer has written:

 “Several Kansas school districts . . . experienced challenges [to Annie] in 1993 after the schools received a donation of library copies of the novel from a national group that sought to give young adults ‘fair, accurate, and inclusive images of lesbians and gay men.’  The book was first removed, then returned to general circulation in the library in Shawnee Mission School District.  Copies of the book were doused with gasoline and burned by a minister and his followers in the Kansas City School District, but a copy of the novel was retained in the high school library, and the school district donated the novel to the city’s public library.”

Dawn B. Sova, Banned Books:  Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds 25-26 (Rev. ed., Facts on File, Inc. 2006).

The next year, in 1994, Annie was banned from five junior high and three senior high school libraries in Olathe, Kansas.  The school librarians, at the Olathe school district’s request, had reviewed Annie On My Mind to determine whether it was clearly appropriate for high school students. The librarians gave the book a favorable review and concluded the book was appropriate for high school students. Notwithstanding the librarians’ favorable review, the superintendent of schools, with the approval of the school board, ordered the book’s removal from the school libraries.  When the district refused to reinstate the book to library shelves, six students and their families sued.

In 1995, Shook, Hardy & Bacon represented these students in a lawsuit against the Olathe School District challenging the school district’s removal of Annie from the school library shelves.  After a trial, Judge G. Thomas Van Bebber, then the chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, concluded that the school district defendants:

“removed Annie on My Mind because they disagreed with ideas expressed in the book and that this factor was the substantial motivation in their removal decision.  Through their removal of the book, defendants intended to deny students in the Olathe School District access to those ideas.  Defendants unconstitutionally sought to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”

Case v. Unified School District No. 233, 908 F. Supp. 864, 875-76 (D. Kan. 1995).  The court ruled that the school district violated the students’ First Amendment Rights as well as their rights under the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights when it removed Annie On My Mind from the school library.  Id. at 876.  [To read the court’s decision, click here.] 

The District Court ordered Annie On My Mind returned to school libraries and made available under the usual terms and conditions for library materials in the school district.  Id. at 877.  The court also ordered the school district to pay the students’ attorneys’ fees.  Case v. Unified School District No. 233, Civ. A. No. 94-2100-GTV, 1996 WL 568841 (D. Kan. Sept. 6, 1996), aff’d in part, rev’d in part, 157 F.3d 1243 (10th Cir. 1998).

On December 22, 1999, Shook, Hardy & Bacon made a charitable contribution of $200,000 to establish the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation. This amount includes the fees which were paid by the Olathe School District as a result of the firm’s successful representation of the group of students in this First Amendment case.  The Foundation was established “to promote a better understanding among Kansas students, particularly in Johnson County, of First Amendment and other Constitutional rights.”  The two principal attorneys for plaintiffs in the Annie case, J. Eugene Balloun and David J. Waxse, were instrumental in establishing and organizing the Foundation.

The Foundation is supervised by an Advisory Committee.  The Advisory Committee for the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation consists of a teacher, a librarian, an attorney selected by the Johnson County Bar Association, and a member selected by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. The Advisory Committee makes recommendations for the use of the income from the Foundation’s fund to further the Foundation’s mission of promoting Kansas high school students’ understanding and appreciation of the Constitution and constitutional values and principles.