(JTA) — A quote by the Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was briefly removed from the walls of a Philadelphia-area high school, reportedly because it violated the school’s policy on “neutrality.”
On Wednesday a principal of a high school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, ordered the school librarian to take down four posters with the Wiesel quote. The quote came from Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel acceptance speech and reads: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
That ran afoul of a controversial new district policy banning teachers from engaging in “advocacy activities” or displaying any signs or symbols of “any partisan, political, or social policy issue.”
“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” the librarian, Matt Pecic, told local outlets. His daughter was the one who had originally emailed him the quote, saying it reminded her of him.
The district allowed Central Bucks High School South to put the posters back up the next day and issued a statement highlighting that Wiesel’s memoir “Night” is a regular part of its curriculum. The district also apologized “for any hurt or concerns this has caused, particularly for those in the Jewish community.”
“We regret that the decision was made to remove” the posters, the district said. The statement added that the librarian “was asked by the administration to present the quote in conjunction with Mr. Wiesel’s book in order to promote educational inquiry and student interest in reading the novel, or to take it down.”
The incident was the latest example of how Jewish material, particularly Holocaust scholarship, has been swept up in larger right-wing attacks on public schools. Last year a Tennessee school board removed Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” from its curriculum citing a nude illustration and profanity that appear in the book.
Several Missouri schools have removed Holocaust history books for children fearing retribution from a new state law, and schools in Florida have removed a picture book about a Jewish family with two dads and a package of diversity-themed books, including one about Shabbat. A public school district in Texas also briefly removed a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary, while legislators in multiple states have suggested instructors should remain “impartial” on issues including Nazis.
The origins of the Bucks County dust-up are similar to many of these cases. The district’s new “neutrality” law was passed by a board that includes several recently elected far-right candidates. Concerns over “critical race theory” and LGBTQ identity in public schools have fueled many such candidates to run for school boards nationwide.
The decision by the Bucks County board to pass their own “neutrality” policy earlier this month has earned it the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as helped to prompt a federal investigation into the district.
“This type of bigotry has become far too normalized in my community,” Lela Casey, a Jewish parent in the district, wrote in a first-person account about the poster removal on Jewish Telegraphic Agency sister site Kveller.
“This is exactly the type of censorship we feared would be the consequence of an overbroad and harmful policy,” Andrew Goretsky, regional director of the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation League, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.