Censorship is one of the major reasons we have a constitution and the form of government everyone points to as the best in the world. But that doesn’t stop individuals and groups from claiming objectionable materials must be removed from libraries and other institutions.
The Nazis used book burning to censor reading, but we’re more “enlightened” here in the U.S. Instead we create what might appear to be reasonable arguments for saving people from themselves and their ignorance about the perils, usually moral in nature, such writing creates.
To call attention to those people who think the First Amendment applies to others, we celebrate the 26th Banned Book Week this week. “Observed since 1982 during the last week of September each year, Banned Books Week celebrates the Freedom to Read,” according to Kristin Fahrenholz, an ACLU law clerk. “Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose and the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. It also stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”
Sponsored by rabble such as the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers and National Association of College Stores, Banned Book Week is also endorsed by that most subversive of all groups, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. In a press release about this important week, Fahrenholz and the ACLU provide some interesting information:
“What is Censorship?
“Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons -- individuals, groups or government officials -- find objectionable or dangerous. Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone.
“Who Attempts Censorship?
“In most instances, a censor is a sincerely concerned individual who believes that censorship can improve society, protect children, and restore what the censor sees as lost moral values. But under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, each of us has the right to read, view, listen to, and disseminate constitutionally protected ideas, even if a censor finds those ideas offensive.
“Often challenges to books are motivated by a desire to protect children from 'inappropriate' sexual content or 'offensive' language. Although this is a commendable motivation, the Library Bill of Rights states that 'Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents -- and only parents -- have the right and the responsibility to restrict access of their children and only their children to library resources.' Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.
“What Is the Difference Between a Challenge and a Banning?
“A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”
Challenging the ban on a book is simple: Go to your local public library and check out a copy of one of the most frequently banned books of 2007:
1) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
2) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence
3) Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language
4) The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint
5) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language
7) TTYL by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
8) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit
9) It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit
10) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
Off the list this year are two books by author Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Both have been challenged for sexual content and offensive language.
If these books aren’t in your library, demand an explanation, write a letter of protest and encourage others to do the same. If the books are there, happy reading!
— Margo Pierce