Banned Books Week is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the dangers of censorship and the importance of the First Amendment
Beginning Sept. 27, 2015. the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers for Free Expression, and a host of other groups will remind us once again that that banning books damages the “marketplace of ideas” and is contrary to the meaning and purpose of a free society and a constitutional democracy.
Acclaimed authors such as Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and Maya Angelou have seen their books banned in certain school districts. Classics such as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple have faced censorship. The wildly popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has faced significant opposition.
Books may be opposed for a variety of reasons, such as profanity, sexually explicit themes, sorcery, gambling, and violence. The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom website provides detailed descriptions of books challenged year by year and by decade, offers a top ten list, and provides detailed statistics.
The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the concept of banning books from a public school library in Bd. of Educ. v. Pico (1982). Five years ago, in an interview, Robert Rieger – one of the students who challenged the censorship in the Pico case – said that “I couldn’t believe they were taking classics from the library.”
In the Pico decision, Justice William Brennan wrote that public school officials could not remove books from library shelves simply because they disagreed with the ideas in those books. In his reasoning, Brennan emphasized the “right to receive ideas.”
This “right” should be sacrosanct in this nation. Inquisitive minds shouldn’t be repressed or rebuffed. Rather, they should be applauded or encouraged.
We want an educated populace who loves to read and explore. Justice Louis Brandeis warned in 1927 that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.”
Celebrate “Banned Books Week” by taking time to reflect on the importance of First Amendment freedoms and the power of “the right to receive ideas.”
David L. Hudson, Jr. is the Ombudsman for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center. He also is the author or co-author of more than 40 books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (2012).