Is there a difference between a “banned” book and a book that parents decide they don’t want their children to read?

Here’s why I ask: According to the Modesto Bee, a teacher in California assigned a book called “Bless Me, Ultima,” saying it was an “important story that connects with teens.”

A parent complained about the book, calling it anti-Catholic and inappropriate. The Superintendent responded by yanking the book from the class. Now, he hadn’t read the book, a fact which irked some. But when he finally did read the book he said he agreed with the parent that the story was disturbing.

So there was a public meeting to which a heap of parents showed up and guess who else? The ACLU. “It makes me wonder, can any family object to any book for any reason?” asked Tony Spears, president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I can’t think of a book, I can’t think of a newspaper article that’s not offensive to some people.”

Most of the folks there defended “Bless Me, Ultima,” a book by Rudolfo Anaya about a Latino boy reconciling his thoughts about American Indian religious traditions and Roman Catholicism.

So here’s the deal on the book according to Wikipedia:

Set in the small town of Guadalupe, New Mexico during World War II, this novel follows the story of Antonio Márez, a young boy who meets a curandera named Ultima. The main plotline involves Ultima’s struggle to stop the witchcraft of the three daughters of Tenorio Trementina, the main villain. In the story Antonio, who is witness to several deaths, is forced to deal with religious and moral issues.

As Antonio grows up, he finds that he must choose between the two opposing families from which he came: the Márez; wild and untamed vaqueros from Antonio’s father’s side, and the Lunas; quiet, religious farmers from whom his mother descended. His father wants to help Antonio make his own choice about his future. His mother’s dream is for him to become a Catholic priest, but over the course of the novel Antonio becomes disillusioned with the faith and through Ultima learns of the broad awareness and possibilities of other gods. Much of the novel is spent with Antonio trying to reconcile Native American religion with traditional Roman Catholicism as well as the Lunas with the Márez.

In this story Antonio asks questions concerning evil, justice and the nature of God. He witnesses many deaths, which force him to mature and face the reality of life. Ultimately, the Catholic Church, dominated by female imagery, by concentrating on the Virgin Mary and a vengeful Father God, on ritual and superficiality, is unable to answer Antonio’s questions. There is an unawareness throughout the novel of any Biblical concept of Christianity. Realizing that the Roman Catholic Church represents the female values of his mother, Antonio cannot bring himself to accept the lawlessness, violence and unthinking sensuality which his father and older brothers symbolize. Instead through his relationship with Ultima, he discovers a oneness with nature, with no value judgments.

A world without value judgments? This book obviously wasn’t written for teens. It was written for idiots.

But I’m interested in the question of whether parents and school officials can make a value judgement on what children read without it being called the b word. All in all this seems like a tempest in a teapot but I think it can be generalized to the point that those who wish to make value judgments for their children will be seen as banning books and rebuffed time and again. At some point, does it leave any choice to parents but to remove children from the public school system if they want any say whatsoever in what their children learn.