New Jersey Court Dismiss Case Against Alison Bechdel's Fun Home in Schools

New Jersey State Superior Court Judge Margaret Goodzeit has dismissed the lawsuit against Watching Hills New Jersey School District that had been brought for offering the comic book Fun Home as part of the school curriculum.

New Jersey Court Dismiss Case Against Alison Bechdel's Fun Home in SchoolsThis summer last year, two parents at Watchung High School in New Jersey challenged the inclusion of the comic by Alison Bechdel, about growing up in a funeral home and realising she was a lesbian. Fun Home had been made part of the curriculum in an attempt to improve the diversity offered by the school's reading list but was an option for students rather than a mandatory text. The challenge was from parents who didn't believe it should even be an option for students. The school board voted to keep it on the curriculum last October

But this month, a lawsuit was brought against the school district employees stating that if the graphic novel wasn't removed, "minors will suffer irreparable harm and that New Jersey statutes will be violated."

The lawsuit was brought by Daniel Gallic, Chairperson of the Warren Township Planning Board, his son Emmett Gallic, a former student at the school, and local residents Doreen Blanchard-Gliebe and Tristan Goode.

Emmett Gallic, as plaintiff, a former student at the school, now 18, who states that he was required to read Fun Home, and in doing so the New Jersey Board of Education committed a crime.

In providing minor children with this book, the Board is in clear, violation of New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 2C — the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, Section 2C:34-3 entitled Obscenity for Persons under 18. "Obscene material" is defined as "any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or representation . . . ." The book clearly depicts specified sexual activity" as defined in the statute because the book's images show oral sex, masturbation, genitalia, etc. The Board is distributing the book to children under the age of 18 and the Statute provides that "a person who knowingly sells, distributes, rents or exhibits to a person under 18 years of age obscene material is guilty of a crime of the third degree."

However, omitted from the lawsuit was the following line of the code that defines obscenity at that which  "emits sensuality sufficient, in terms of the duration and impact of the depiction, to appeal to prurient interest." And the case did not attempt to make a claim that Fun Home did this.

When dismissing the case, State Superior Court Judge Margaret Goodzeit stated that it was an "Order denying injunction and dismissing the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim." So that the plaintiffs cannot bring the lawsuit back.

Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education President, Peter Fallon, was one of the named defendants issued a statement claiming that the plaintiffs were seeking publicity for their cause, that the case made was frivolous and was a waste of taxpayers money to have to respond to.

Here is the school's statement in full:

The Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education and its Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jewett, Board President Peter B. Fallon, Watchung Hills Regional High School Principal George Alexis, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Ellen Phelan, English Department Supervisor James Acquavia, and teacher Courtney Griffith have been sued by Daniel Gallic, his son Emmett Gallic, Doreen Blanchard-Gliebe and Tristan Goode in Somerset County Superior Court in an action entitled Gallic, et al. v. Watchung Hill Regional High School Board of Education et al., Docket No. SOM-C-12032- 19. Plaintiff Daniel Gallic is the Chairperson of the Warren Township Planning Board. Emmet Gallic was a senior last year at Watchung Hills Regional High School. Plaintiff Doreen Blanchard-Gliebe is described in the Complaint as a resident of Green Brook. Plaintiff Tristan Good is described in the Complaint as a resident of Warren.

The lawsuit concerns the book Fun Home: A Family Tragicanic which is one of the texts that students can choose to read in their senior year. The lawsuit states that Plaintiff Emmett Gallic was required to read the book last year when he was a 17 year old senior at Watchung Hills Regional High School. In the lawsuit plaintiffs accuse the Board of Education and the other defendants of a crime. Specifically paragraph 6 of plaintiffs' Verified Complaint alleges:

In providing minor children with this book, the Board is in clear, violation of New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 2C — the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, Section 2C:34-3 entitled Obscenity for Persons under 18. "Obscene material" is defined as "any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or representation . . . ." The book clearly depicts specified sexual activity" as defined in the statute because the book's images show oral sex, masturbation, genitalia, etc. The Board is distributing the book to children under the age of 18 and the Statute provides that "a person who knowingly sells, distributes, rents or exhibits to a person under 18 years of age obscene material is guilty of a crime of the third degree."

However, in both plaintiffs' Verified Complaint and in the application they made to the Court for temporary restraints preliminarily enjoining the Board from continuing to utilize Fun Home, the plaintiffs cite and quote one part of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1) while completing ignoring the rest of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1). In full, N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1) provides:

"Obscene material" means any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or other representation, publication, sound recording, live performance or film, which by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details, emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity.

The plaintiffs' Verified Complaint contains no allegations that the images in the book either by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details "emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity." Additionally, in the Report and Certification submitted by plaintiff's expert, Judith Reisman, Ph.D. and director of the Reisman Institute at Liberty University School of Law, completely fail to address whether the images they complain about "emit sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest."

Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education President and defendant Peter Fallon said "Plaintiffs' decision to address only one of the two elements necessary to find a violation of the criminal code section N.J.S.A.. 2C:34-3 demonstrates the frivolous nature of plaintiffs' claim." He went on to say "If the plaintiffs were seriously seeking relief in this lawsuit, rather than just publicity for their opposition to the book, they would have addressed both elements of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3 in their papers. It is a shame that tax-payer money will have to be spent to defend such a baseless lawsuit. Money that will have to be spent to defend this lawsuit is money that will not be available to spend on educating the children of the Watchung Hills Regional High School district."

The lawsuit seeks entry of a judgment by the New Jersey Superior Court, Somerset County, Chancery Division declaring that the defendants have violated N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3. A decision as to whether defendants have violated the Criminal Code would normally be made in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court and it is not clear that the Chancery Division has the jurisdiction to make such a decision. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to restrain the defendants from including the book as optional material in the 12. grade English curriculum.

The lawsuit and the plaintiffs' request for a Preliminary Injunction with Temporary Restraints while the Court is deciding on plaintiffs' Verified Complaint was filed on May 2, 2019. Judge Margaret Goodzeit, the Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division for Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, denied the plaintiffs' application for Temporary Restraints on May 3, 2019. The Court has scheduled June 5, 2019 for oral argument on plaintiffs application for a preliminary injunction during the pendency of the lawsuit.

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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