Schuler Co-Owners Respond to Hannity Feedback
There has been a great deal of response, both positive and negative, to our upcoming event with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld, co-owners of Schuler Books, have composed the following letter in reference to the feedback we have received:
We are interested to read the emails and Facebook comments we have received about Sean Hannity – especially those which suggest we should not allow him to appear in our store. He is certainly a provocative figure, but some of our customers would like to meet him. A few who find Mr. Hannity offensive seem to argue, in their comments, that those customers should be denied the opportunity. However, we cannot allow one group to censor, for others, the books we sell or the authors we host.
Actually, we have never refused to host an event because of an author’s politics, just as we would never refuse to carry a book because of its political content. To do so would be to abandon one of our core values as booksellers – an unwavering commitment to First Amendment Rights and free speech. That commitment is especially challenging if we don’t think highly of, or agree with, an author we host, but it is a commitment we must keep.
Bookstores are not like other stores. Books contain ideas and bookstores play a central part in the process by which ideas are disseminated and debated. Debate is essential in a free society.
We take seriously our responsibility to promote ideas, including those that we personally oppose. Hosting authors for readings and autographing is an important part of the process. It gives customers a chance to meet the person behind the book, to ask questions, to agree, to disagree.
We carry books all across the political spectrum. Likewise, we have hosted authors from all across the political spectrum – from Gloria Steinem to Oliver North, from Mike Huckabee to Bill Ayers or Thom Hartmann. We have had many complaints and many compliments.
We have never removed a book from the shelves because of a complaint, and never will. We understand that people may be offended from time to time by what they encounter in our stores. But we don’t believe one group of customers should presume to determine what another group of our customers may or may not have access to. Free access to the entire range of opinion is the essence of free speech, and part of our core commitment as booksellers.
We have had customers pour coffee on books about French culture during the “freedom fries” uproar. We have had churches organize their congregations to send postcards protesting a book that they opposed. We have been accused of favoring a political ideology because we have a newly published book on display. We have had parents object to books that reflect values they don’t share. We have been accused of selling pornography because a book might have explicit language that someone disapproves of.
Suppression of ideas is the first step toward repression of action. We are a pluralist society and we all have a right, if we truly believe in a free and open society, to express those ideas. To listen to is not necessarily to agree with. To host is not necessarily to endorse.
We hope that most of our customers will understand, and respect the rights of all, including Schuler Books, no matter if they find the issue or individual distasteful.
–Bill Fehsenfeld, co-owner, Schuler Books
–Cecile Cave Fehsenfeld, co-owner, Schuler Books
National Board Member, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Member, ACLU Western Michigan Advisory Board.