On the Challenging, Banning, and Censorship of Books: My Response to Jonah Goldberg’s Piece “Banned Book B.S. Cont’d” at the National Review Online

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger 

Part I

 Jonah Goldberg was not pleased with Banned Books Week: Just a Lot of Propaganda Says Jonah Goldberg, the post that I wrote for the Turley blog last Sunday. In my post, I criticized Goldberg’s op-ed titled Banned Books Week is just hype, which appeared in USA Today on September 5th. Goldberg responded to my criticism of his op-ed with a blog post titled Banned Book B.S. Cont’d at the National Review Online (NRO). He said that my effort to come “to the rescue of the Banned Book Week crowd” was “entirely underwhelming.” He added, “A big chunk of her response restates my op-ed while casting her incomprehension as if it’s a rebuttal.”

Goldberg said my insinuation that the threat of book banning is a more serious problem than we realize because of the book challenges that go unreported to ALA (American Library Association) was “incredibly lame.”

Goldberg: The ALA has been saying this for decades, even as the annual rate of reported cases has remained remarkably constant — and low! — for about a quarter century. Moreover, many of the reported cases listed by the ALA are little more than disputes over whether a book is age-appropriate. These disputes don’t end in books being pulled from shelves. They are merely “challenges” — which the BBWers lump in with “bans.” If your seven-year-old comes home with a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and you complain that it’s not age appropriate, your “challenge” gets lumped in with the total number of ominous “bans and challenges.” 

I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Goldberg is aware of the types of reconsideration policies libraries have in place and the procedures that are supposed to be followed when a book is challenged. Many book “disputes” never reach the level of a formal challenge when individuals or groups making complaints about books are asked to fill out reconsideration forms. Many complaints can be dealt with easily and amicably.  To my knowledge, cases which are resolved quickly don’t get “lumped in” with “bans” or reported to ALA.

 Case in point: When I served as a school librarian, a mother spoke to me after school one afternoon about a book her son had borrowed from the library. She handed me the book and told me she didn’t think it was appropriate reading for her child. I listened to her concerns. I told her that she could fill out a reconsideration form if she felt the book should be removed from the library. She told me she wasn’t asking that the book be removed from the library. She said she just didn’t want her son reading it. There was no disagreement. I didn’t bully her into making that decision. That was the end of that book “dispute.” The mother left the library satisfied with my response. I never reported this incident to ALA.

Goldberg’s example of a seven-year-old coming home with a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover is laughable. I am sure no elementary school libraries or children’s rooms in public libraries include that book in their collections.

 I should add that not all challenged books are library books. Some challenged books are those which are included on school reading lists or those which teachers have read aloud in the classroom. Complaints about books such as these would usually be dealt with by school administrators or school boards.

 Goldberg is correct in saying that not all challenged books are pulled from shelves. Still, there are books removed from library shelves every year. There are also books removed from school reading lists. Does Goldberg think it’s of no importance or concern because only some of the challenged books are removed or banned?

 FYI—Some information on challenged and banned books:

Taken from Book battles heat up over censorship vs. selection in school by Natalie DiBlasio, (USA Today)

Books banned by various schools in the past six months include:

1. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher

2. Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root

3. The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan

4. Burn, by Suzanne Phillips

5. Great Soul, by Joseph Lelyveld

6. It’s a Book, by Lane Smith

7. Lovingly Alice, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

8. The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith

9. Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

10. Mobile Suit Gundam: Seed Astray Vol. 3, by Tomohiro Chiba

11. My Darling, My Hamburger, by Paul Zindel

12. The Patron Saint of Butterflies, by Cecilia Galante

13. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

14. Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs, by Carl Semencic

15. Push, by Sapphire

16. Shooting Star, by Fredrick McKissack Jr.

17. The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley, by Colin Thompson

18. Vegan Virgin Valentine, by Carolyn Mackler

19. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

20. “What’s Happening to My Body?”: Book for Boys, by Lynda Madaras with Area Madaras

Source: Jennifer Petersen, the American Library Association

 

Part II

Goldberg quoted the two paragraphs below from my Turley blog post and described them as “treacle”:

 “When a library removes a book from its shelves because someone disapproves of the ideas or opinions contained in the book, that is censorship. When it is done by publicly funded schools and libraries — government agencies — it is a violation of the First Amendment.” (Molly Raphael, President of ALA)

Raphael said we should remember that when a book is removed from a library it is an act of censorship that affects an entire community—not just one individual or one family. She also said that public libraries “serve everyone, including those who are too young or too poor to buy their own books or own a computer.” She added that the reason librarians and library users celebrate BBW is as “a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We celebrate the freedom to read because we all know that we are so fortunate to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society. That is why we draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read.”

 That’s treacle? Maybe to Goldberg—but not to me.

Goldberg also wrote: If you want to call it “censorship” to pull a book from a library that’s unsuitable for kids or that doesn’t deserve shelf-space compared to a better book, fine call it censorship. But if that’s the case, then there’s nothing unwholesome, dangerous, or sinister about censorship whatsoever. As to whether it violates the First Amendment, that strikes me as nonsense too. Librarians have somehow convinced themselves that they are the final constitutional authority about what should or should not be in libraries, often including relatively unfettered access to online porn.

So…there’s nothing unwholesome, dangerous, or sinister about removing library books that are unsuitable or don’t deserve shelf-space compared to a better book? I’d ask, “Who is supposed to determine which books are unsuitable for children and which books don’t deserve shelf space?” And what about all the quality literature and award-winning books that are often the targets of challenges?

The following three books have been frequently challenged:

Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007. (Note: This book was actually banned by the Richland School District in Washington this year. It was later reinstated.)

Lois Lowry’s book The Giver, a novel about a dystopian society, won a Newbery Medal in 1994.

Katherine Paterson’s book Bridge to Terabithia received a Newbery Medal in 1978. Paterson was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2010-2011 by the Library of Congress.

From the Library of Congress:

Katherine Paterson’s international fame rests not only on her widely acclaimed novels but also on her efforts to promote literacy in the United States and abroad. A two-time winner of the Newbery Medal (“Bridge to Terabithia” and “Jacob Have I Loved”) and the National Book Award (“The Great Gilly Hopkins” and “The Master Puppeteer”), she has received many accolades for her body of work, including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, given by her home state of Vermont. She was also named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

Does Goldberg believe that these three award-winning books written by Alexie, Lowry, and Paterson deserve shelf space in a school library? Does he think they are inappropriate reading material for the youth of this country? Does he think more parents should challenge these books?

 

Part III

Goldberg was kind enough to answer a question that I had posed in my Turley blog post:

Oh, and to answer Magliaro’s question, my answer is Yes, I think it might be a good thing if there were more challenges to librarians’ judgment about what books kids should be reading. Newspapers have a much more obvious and direct connection to the First Amendment, but we don’t consider harsh letters to the editor — i.e. “challenges” to editorial policy — to be censorious. But when a parent questions the judgment of a librarian that’s supposed to be an ominous threat to free speech? That’s bunk.

I’m not sure why Goldberg thinks that newspapers have a more obvious connection to the First Amendment than books do. Do harsh letters to the editor actually censor editorial policy? No. Are book challenges the cause of some books being banned or removed from library bookshelves or school reading lists? Yes.

Goldberg seems to perceive an adversarial relationship between librarians and parents who are concerned about the books their children read. He wrote: “Any such engagement will fuel disagreements. Bullying parents by claiming that any disagreement with a librarian is censorious does no one any good.”

Are librarians bullies–as Goldberg seems to think? Do librarians “bully” parents by claiming that any disagreement with them is censorious? Goldberg gives the impression that there is constant friction between librarians and parents who express concerns to them about the books their children read. This is not true. In fact, the ALA supports parents’ rights in regard to their children’s use of library resources:

Librarians and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child.  Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children’s—and only their children’s—access to library resources. (ALA)

ALA President Molly Raphael said as much in the response she wrote to Goldberg’s op-ed column in USA Today:

Librarians have always supported a parent’s right to decide what his or her family should read. But in our democracy, other families should be able to make different choices for their own families, not dictated by a particular political or religious viewpoint.

The problem isn’t with parents who are concerned about what their children read and who want to help their children make good book choices. The problem comes when a parent disapproves of a book and decides he/she doesn’t want anyone else’s child to read it. Why should The Giver, Bridge to Terabithia, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian be removed from a library or a school reading list because one parent disapproves of them?

It appears Jonah Goldberg has little respect for librarians or children’s literature. He thinks there should be more book challenges. He thinks there’s nothing sinister or dangerous about certain kinds of book censorship. He claims librarians bully parents. He scoffs at the idea that the removal of books from libraries might violate the First Amendment.  I think it’s a sad day when a published book author and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors believes that the American Library Association’s attempt to call attention to the challenging, censorship, and banning of books is just “b.s.”

 

Part IV

Gordon T. Belt, the Library Manager of the First Amendment Center, wrote the following in Banned Books Week: defending our freedom to read:

“I cannot live without books.” — Thomas Jefferson.

Of all Jefferson’s inspiring and thought-provoking quotes, this one is among my favorites. As the First Amendment Center’s librarian, I have a special affinity for books, and as someone academically trained as a historian, I have an appreciation for the Founding Fathers and for the important words they left behind.

Banned Books Week — Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 — is an annual recognition by librarians and book-minded people that the First Amendment should never be taken for granted. I believe the freedoms embraced by the Founding Fathers in the 45 words of the First Amendment also speak to an implied freedom to read, yet history shows us that the struggle to maintain that freedom has never been easy.

Jefferson believed that censorship only served to draw attention to books that might otherwise be ignored or forgotten. In 1814, Jefferson wrote to his Philadelphia bookseller, Nicolas G. Dufief, concerning Jefferson’s purchase of a book by Regnault de Bécourt, La Création du Monde. American authorities claimed that de Bécourt’s book contained blasphemous material, and had accused the author of selling his book to Jefferson. In coming to de Bécourt’s defense Jefferson eloquently stated, “I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate.”

Throughout our nation’s history, words that have questioned the authority of our government and religious institutions have faced public scrutiny. Even works by our most well-known Founding Fathers have been censored out of fear of rebellion and societal decay.

 Part V

Some Quotes on Censorship:

 “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” – Voltaire

 “Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance.” -Lyndon Baines Johnson

 “Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there.” – Clare Booth Luce

 “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

Sources & Further Reading

Censorship On The Rise: U.S. Schools Have Banned More Than 20 Books This Year (Think Progress)

MO High School Bans ‘SlaughterHouse Five’ From Curriculum, Library Because Its Principles Are Contrary To The Bible (Think Progress)

Slaughterhouse Five Sent To Literary Gulag in Republic, MO (National Coalition Against Censorship)

Richland School District Bans The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian Without Actually Reading It (Seattle Weekly)

Richland School Board reverses course on book ban (Tri-City Herald)

“Banned Books Week” worth the hype (Journal Star)

Book battles heat up over censorship vs. selection in school (USA Today)

Banned Books Week: defending our freedom to read (First Amendment Law Center)

CRDL celebrates Banned Books Week (The Morning Sun)

Banned Books Week promotes, protects freedom (Galesburg Planet)

Column: Banned Books Week is just hype (USA Today)

Banned Books Week celebrates Freedom to Read (USA Today)

Banned Books Week: Just a Lot of Propaganda Says Jonah Goldberg (Turley Blawg)

Banned Book B.S. Cont’d (National Review Online)

Censorship and Banned Books: Quotes about Censorship (New Mexico State University)

Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources (American Library Association)

Free Access to Libraries for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (American Library Association)

Notable First Amendment Court Cases (American Library Association)

74 thoughts on “On the Challenging, Banning, and Censorship of Books: My Response to Jonah Goldberg’s Piece “Banned Book B.S. Cont’d” at the National Review Online

    • A.N. — Thanks for the link — there are so many hacks pontificating on our politics (across the spectrum), and far more of them need to be called out.

  1. Conservative author Jonah Goldberg drops claim of two Pulitzer nominations
    By Bill Dedman, Investigative Reporter
    http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/09/11608553-conservative-author-jonah-goldberg-drops-claim-of-two-pulitzer-nominations?lite

    Excerpt:
    On the dust jacket of his new book, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas,” best-selling conservative author and commentator Jonah Goldberg is described as having “twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.”

    In fact, as Goldberg acknowledged on Tuesday, he has never been a Pulitzer nominee, but is merely one of thousands of entrants.

    When this bit of résumé inflation was pointed out by a reporter for msnbc.com, Goldberg said he hadn’t meant to mislead anyone and removed the Pulitzer claim from his bio at National Review Online. (Here’s the page before and now.) And he added, “I never put it in the bio in the first place.”

    His publisher, Penguin Group (USA), said the error was unintentional and it would remove the Pulitzer word from his book jacket when it’s time for the first reprint, “just like any other innocent mistake brought to our attention.” (Update: On Wednesday morning, the publisher removed the claim from its own website.)

    What’s surprising in Goldberg’s case is that he has been called out for the same résumé padding before, when his previous book was published.

    Goldberg’s “The Tyranny of Clichés” was published May 1 and is ranked in the top 100 in sales on Amazon. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Goldberg is the founding editor of National Review Online. He is a Fox News contributor, and has appeared as a guest on MSNBC and NBC. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBCUniversal and Microsoft.)

    An entry form and $50
    It’s not uncommon for Pulitzer entrants to claim to be nominees. Here’s how it works: Though there are only three nominees, known as nominated finalists, in each Pulitzer category each year, there are more than 2,000 entrants. One could say that all of them were “nominated” by someone. If all Pulitzer entrants could be called nominees, any publisher could give all its authors that honorific by submitting an entry form and a check for $50.

    The Pulitzer rules make clear that the only people to be known as nominees are those finalists chosen by the Pulitzer juries. From those nominated finalists, the Pulitzer board chooses the winners. Everyone else is just an entrant. As the Pulitzer board’s online list of frequently asked questions explains politely, “Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission. … We discourage someone saying he or she was ‘nominated’ for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us.”

  2. I would like to see censorship ratings on the covers of books and ‘buy page’ of e-books as they have on the cover of DVDs and Movies. That way, I can know whether a book has high level course language which I don’t like or blasphemy which is even worse for me. For me, these things ruin the book. Doesn’t matter how good the story might be, I’m disappointed with it and don’t want to read any further.

    I said in an honestly curious way to a friend once who is an award winning writer and has a tremendous handle on literary vocabulary “I don’t understand John, how someone as clever as you with the English language pollutes every conversation with mega prophanity and can barely write a sentence without it.” He agreed with me that he wished he could get out of the habit but it was so much a part of him now that he couldn’t shake it.

    To me, prophanity is as much a pollution of a good writer’s work as dumping refuse in a pristine river.

    Thank you for reading.

  3. Banned Book Week and Freedom of Thought
    Posted on September 28, 2011 by Roy Gutterman
    The Tully Center for Free Speech
    http://tully.syr.edu/?p=593

    Excerpt:
    Censorship cases before the United States Supreme Court have ranged from government attempts to quell speech that might affect national security or incite a riot based on unpopular messages to attempts to ban content or books or films on obscenity grounds.

    Perhaps the most critical decision on book censorship came in 1982 in a plurality opinion in Island Trees School District v. Pico. Here, a group of parents sought removal of nine books from the school system’s libraries, including works by such literary heavyweights as Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. Alice Childress’s A Hero Ain’t Nothing But a Sandwich was also banned. I read this book around the time of this controversy, and would have relished the reading even more had I known it was the subject of a censorship battle in a community not too far from where I grew up.

    Although the Supreme Court failed to garner a solid majority in the Pico case, the opinion has been interpreted as anti-censorship – that the First Amendment prevents a school district from pulling books from the shelves. Offensiveness is not a valid legal standard. Classroom or compulsory reading for courses would be a different issue, as would acquisition of books.

    “Of course all First Amendment rights accorded to students must be construed ‘in light of the special characteristics of the school environment,’ Justice William Brennan wrote, quoting the seminal school speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969). “But the special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students.”

    Brennan further wrote that a library is a place dedicated to “quiet, to knowledge, and to beauty.”

  4. 17 Famous Banned Books You Probably Read As A Kid
    Business Insider
    September 27, 2011
    http://www.businessinsider.com/banned-books-2011-09?op=1

    Excerpts:
    How to Eat Fried Worms
    Reasoning: Encouraged children to engage in socially unacceptable behavior, profanity and promoted gambling.

    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
    Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
    Reasoning: Profanity, racial slurs and harsh depiction of racism in the South.

    A Wrinkle in Time
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Reasoning: Promotion of witchcraft and crystal balls and anti-religious undertones.

  5. Connecticut Residents Seek to Ban Two Newbery Medal Winners from School
    American Booksellers Association
    July 29, 2002
    http://news.bookweb.org/news/connecticut-residents-seek-ban-two-newbery-medal-winners-school

    Excerpt:
    Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is the story of the friendship between two fifth-graders, a boy and a girl, Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke. Together, the two create an imaginary kingdom named Terabithia in the woods, where they rule as king and queen, and where the only limit is their imaginations.

    Though Bridge to Terabithia has been banned many times in the past (it is ninth on the American Library Association’s list of 100 books most commonly banned from schools between the years 1990 – 2000, in this particular case, author Katherine Paterson does not know why residents Bridget Flanagan and Andrea Eigner want the book removed, she told BTW.

    As for why the book has been banned in the past, Paterson explained, “Initially, it was challenged because it deals with a boy who lives in rural Virginia, and he uses the word ‘Lord’ a lot, and it’s not in prayer. Then there are more complicated reasons. The children build an imaginary kingdom, and there was the feeling that I was promoting the religion of secular humanism, and then New Age religion.” Paterson thinks the latter complaints are ironic since her parents were Christian missionaries, and she is married to a Presbyterian minister.

    According to the Hartford Courant, Flanagan’s and Eigner’s petition urges the school board to “… eliminate the study of materials containing information about witchcraft, magic, evil spells, or related material, now and forever…. We believe this material is satanic, a danger to our children, is being studied excessively and has no place in our schools.”

  6. DHMCarver,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I was wondering when and why Banned Books Week had become a conservative vs. liberal issue–and why some conservatives like Goldberg seem to have such a negative viewpoint about librarians. I found the following article written by Thomas Sowell back in 1994. Was Sowell the first to criticize BBW? I don’t know.

    Here’s an excerpt from and a link to Sowell’s article:

    Censorship Propaganda Is Just So Much Hogwash
    By Thomas Sowell
    Creators Syndicate, Inc.
    Seattle Times
    October 5, 1994
    http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19941005&slug=1934214

    Excerpt:
    “BOOK Banning is Happening Now!!”

    That is what the sign said in the midst of a big display in the bookstore window. As it turned out, book banning was not happening. Hogwash was happening.

    The books in the display were not banned. You can get them at bookstores from sea to shining sea. The government itself buys some of them. Many of these books are circulating in the tens of thousands, and some in the millions.

    A poster in the display proclaimed this to be “Banned Books Week.” The kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of “censorship” or “book banning” has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own.

    Someone called the 1930s a “low, dishonest decade.” The 1990s are a serious competitor for that title. False charges of banning or censorship are so common that they are seldom challenged for evidence or even for a definition.

    To call a book “banned” because someone decided that it was unsuitable for their particular students or clientele would be to make at least 99 percent of all books “banned.” Few individuals or institutions can afford to buy even 1 percent of the vast number of books that are published annually. They must exercise judgment and that judgment is necessarily in the negative most of the time.

    If we are not going to call every book that is not purchased by an institution “banned,” then how will we define this nebulous but emotional word?

    Usually some school or library officials decide to buy a particular book and then some parents or others object that it is either unsuitable for children or unsuitable in general, for any of a number of reasons. Then the cry of “censorship” goes up, even if the book is still being sold openly all over town.

    If the criterion of censorship is that the objection comes from the general public, rather than from people who run schools and libraries, then that is saying that the parents and taxpayers have no right to a say about what is done with their own children or their own money.

    This is a pretty raw assertion of preemptive superiority – and while many of the self-anointed may think this way, few are bold enough to come right out and say it. Fraudulent words like “censorship” and “banned” enable them to avoid saying it.

    Some of the books shown seemed pretty innocuous to me – but there is no more reason why my opinion should prevail than the opinion of someone else, especially when that someone else is a parent or taxpayer. However, other books in the display were pure propaganda for avant-garde notions that are being foisted onto vulnerable and unsuspecting children in the name of “education.”

  7. One line in the Petri piece annoyed me: “For every person who says that you can’t read ‘Brave New World’ because it’s got too much sexual freedom in it, there’s somebody else who says that it ‘lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society.’ ”

    This is the kind of phony equivalence that is so prevalent in the press these days. It leads people to say, “They are all the same — everyone does it.” Which is demonstrably untrue. I would wager there are FAR more folks objecting to Brave New World for its sexual content than those objecting to its multicultural values. Pace Petri, I’d bet there are 10 — or 100, or 1,000 — people who wants to censor Brave New World for its sexual content to one who asks for it to be pulled for offenses to multiculturalism. I cannot remember ever reading of a liberal book-burning — where are those pyres of Ayn Rand? — while there were plenty of bonfires of Harry Potter vanities. Yes, there are voices on the left who call for x or y to be pulled from the shelves, but they are rare, isolated incidents — and you don’t see the likes of Katrina vanden Heuvel writing columns defending liberal censorship. With her phony argument, Petri does a disservice to the cause.

  8. US prisoner forbidden to read Pulitzer-winning history book
    Inmate sues under civil rights legislation, after Alabama jail withholds study of the historical treatment of black Americans
    Alison Flood
    The Guardian, 9/28/2011
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/28/us-prisoner-forbidden-pulitzer-history-book

    Excerpt:
    A prisoner in an Alabama jail has claimed in a lawsuit that his jailers prevented him from reading a Pulitzer prize-winning book about America’s racial history, thereby violating his civil rights.

    Kilby Correctional Facility inmate Mark Melvin says he was sent Douglas Blackmon’s award-winning history book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II in September 2010, but was told he was not allowed it, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed by the Equal Justice Initiative in the US district court for the middle district of Alabama. The news comes as the US marks Banned Books Week, an annual nationwide celebration of the right to read.

    The complaint claims Melvin, serving a life sentence after being charged at 14 with helping his older brother commit two murders, was denied access to the book because of regulations which allow officials to withhold mail if it could be “an attempt to incite violence based on race, religion, sex, creed or nationality”. Based on original documents and personal narratives, Slavery By Another Name tells of the tens of thousands of “free” black Americans who were bought and sold as forced labourers decades after the official abolition of slavery.

    “[The book] is a Pulitzer prize-winning historical account of racial oppression and racial bias in the Southern United States [which] does not advocate violence or a violent ideology, nor does it attempt to incite violence based on race,” writes Equal Justice Initiative director and lawyer Bryan Stevenson in the complaint.

    Stevenson said in a statement that banning an award-winning book about racial history in the South was “not only misguided, but … injurious to anyone who is trying to advance our society on issues of race”.

  9. Who Says You Can’t Read That?
    ACLU
    9/26/2011
    http://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/who-says-you-cant-read

    Excerpt:
    No matter how well intended, banning books is censorship and infringes on the rights of a free society. So when books are banned from libraries, a practice that unfortunately continues today, librarians and civil libertarians speak up.

    Tonight the Pittsburgh Chapter of ACLU of Pennsylvania will showcase freedom of expression and decry censorship at our 16th annual fREADom celebration during Banned Books Week. We’re teaming up with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and WYEP 91.3FM for an event where a range of Pittsburgh’s arts-loving activists — including a rapper, a teacher, a songwriter, and a poet — will read from books that have been banned or challenged.

    No one’s going to tell us what we can’t read.

    Pittsburgh is a uniquely appropriate home for the celebration of Banned Books Week. In 1982, Pittsburgh native Judith Fingeret Krug founded Banned Books Week as an annual national happening to celebrate the First Amendment and educate citizens on the folly of censorship. Krug was a lifelong champion of free speech as director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, and as head of the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation. When she died in 2009, the ALA hailed Judith Fingeret Krug as “principled and unwavering” in her defense of “the rights of individuals to express ideas and read the ideas of others without governmental interference.” The ACLU could not have had a stronger ally.

    Krug’s life and accomplishments distinguished her as one of our country’s great civil liberties leaders. Our fREADom event (dedicated to Krug’s legacy and partially supported through a foundation grant established by her family) salutes her tireless efforts to ensure the public’s right to know.

    Unapologetic and principled, Krug fought for inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive. “My personal proclivities have nothing to do with how I react as a librarian, . . . library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.” The success of our Banned Books program demonstrates that, like Krug, savvy Pittsburghers appreciate not only the intrinsic value of literature they love but also the vital necessity of protecting literature they may disfavor.

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