The American Library Association website celebrating this year’s Banned Books Week has this quote: “Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”
The idea of banning books seems like something from the past. Yet, it is very much alive today as shown in this report that, earlier this month, a school board in Stockton, Missouri unanimously banned the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. Parents and educators objected to the book’s language and sexual content. The novel, which won the 2007 National Book Award for young people’s literature, depicts a boy who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school.
Also this month, Judge James C. Turk of the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia wrote an opinion in Couch v. Jabe declaring Virginia’s prison policy excluding Ulysses and Lady Chatterly’s Love from the prison library unconstitutional. Judge Turk concluded that the prison book policy was not reasonable but an “exaggerated response” to prison conditions.
This year, Alaska enacted a new statute known as SB 222 which prompted the filing of a complaint in the US District Court for the District of Alaska by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Alaska Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and other. The suit challenged Alaska’s new censorship statute, which criminalizes books “harmful to minors”, and seeks to block provisions that ban constitutionally protected speech on the Internet on topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art and also threatens retailers of books, magazines, movies and other media. More information on the Alaska challenge is available here.
The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection several items on the subject of censorship including Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds by Dawn B. Sova (Call #PN56.E7 S68 2006) which discusses some 400 works censored, banned, or condemned because of their political, social, religious, or sexual content.
Another item in the collection is Banned in the U.S.A.: a Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries by Herbert N. Foerstel (Call #Z658.U5 F64 2002). It is a valuable reference tool for librarians and teachers dealing with censorship as well as patrons who want to get a better understanding of the threats to their First Amendment rights.
This video from “Don’t Know Much About…” author Kennis Davis is timely during this year’s Banned Books Week.