In celebrating the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week, we at Business Clarksville took a look at
why are books challenged and who the challengers are.
What is the difference between a challenge or 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. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection
Most people are well-intentioned and challenge books they see as harmful to children or which contain difficult ideas or concepts. The actions can be subtle or overt, but are still harmful. Not everyone has the same opinion, the same mindset, the same view of the world; thus in banning or challenging a book, one is depriving another of the right to read that book. We have the right as parents to our opinion and that includes an opinion about what we want our children to read. That does not supercede what other parents might want their children to read, experience and explore.
Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:
- the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
- the material contained “offensive language”
- the materials was “unsuited to any age group”
Although this is a commendable motivation, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA’s basic policy concerning access to information) states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the 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.
As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson , said most eloquently:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
If we are to continue to protect our First Amendment, we would do well to keep in mind these words of Noam Chomsky:
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
Or these words of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (” The One Un-American Act.” Nieman Reports , vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20):
Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
But who are the people who challenge books?
Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.
In his book Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, Nat Hentoff writes that “the lust to suppress can come from any direction.” He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”
According to the Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, parents challenge materials more often than any other group.
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. They compile lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information. For more information on ALA’s efforts to raise awareness of censorship and promote the freedom to read, please explore Banned Books Week.