by D.T.R. Lee
Quick article I wrote for a class.
|Censorship: Coming to a Library Near You
As Americans one of our country’s foundations is our First Amendment, our freedom of speech. And yet the American Library Association’s records show 487 attempted book bans in 2005, 52% of these attempts were successful. Faced with these statistics one must ask oneself: How can Americans be so hypocritical as to cite their freedom of speech one minute and then take an author’s away the next. Americans must come together to preserve the aspects of their history stored in their literary works or lose them forever in the rush of modern society.
Many people believe book censorship started as a policy of the Nazi 3rd Reich but this is a misconception. The true birth of censorship was in 1517 when the Catholic Church’s Pope Leo X banned Martin Luther’s Ninety Five Theses from its parishes. Immediately Luther began publishing as many copies of his book as possible, pushing them out into the streets as fast as he could. Luther’s defiance of Pope Leo disturbed Emperor Charles V. On May 25, 1521 Emperor Charles issued the Edict of Worms, with a clause prohibiting the sale, possession, printing, reading, or copying of any of Luther’s works, the first example of legislative censorship, unfortunately not the last by any stretch of the imagination.
In a flash the English and French Governments took up censorship by censoring secular or satanic works. The Protestants then followed the Catholic example and quickly spread the doctrine of literary holiness throughout their clergy. This religious censorship has continued ever since. A prime example of modern religious censorship is the popular banning of the Harry Potter books. Many people believe that the Harry Potter books are based on witchcraft and wizardry, that if their children read them they will be corrupted and begin casting spells. But the Harry Potter series is not centered on witchcraft and wizardry it is merely a backdrop. Winnie the Pooh books aren’t banned for their talking animals. The Harry Potter books are set around themes of the struggle between good and evil both through interactions with characters and the characters interactions with themselves. Many think that a teenager waving his wand and casting spells is not the kind of role model they want for their children, but they must look past that, they must look at the morals and they must look at the themes, and if they still feel uncomfortable then a simple talk about what is real and what is make believe with their children can resolve any misunderstanding.
Many groups feel so passionately about their beliefs that they feel they must stop not only their members from reading a particular book, but everyone. That is where the First Amendment comes in to play and it dies when someone puts someone else in a position where they cannot read or write something they believe. That is what kills history and culture.
In 1966 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart ruled that book censorship “reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself”. Multiple other Supreme Court censorship cases have been ruled in favor of the book including: West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette 1943, Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition 2002, Whitney v. California 1927, Near v. Minnesota 1931, and Erznozik v. City of Jacksonville 1976.
In Herbert Foerstel’s book Banned in the U.S.A.: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Public Schools and Libraries, Salmon Rushdie talks about the censorship of his book, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie went into hiding when, in 1989, his novel offended Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who then called for Rushdie’s execution and placed a $1 million dollar bounty on his head. Since then Rushdie’s publisher has been captured by the Ayatollah and killed. In 1992 Rushdie went to Washington D.C. for 5 days, his longest duration out of hiding since entering solitude at the posting of his bounty. The State Department and White House both refused to speak with Rushdie.
According to the ALA book bans usually center around three basic categories. Category one contains books that are deemed anti-Christian, Satanic or New Age. Approximately 37% of book bannings are classified, at least partially in this category. Typical books protested from this category are Of Mice and Men, and Catcher in the Rye. Category 2 includes books containing profane or otherwise offensive language. Approximately 33% of book bans are classified in this category, books protested from this category include The Chocolate War and Blubber. The third and final category contains books where the materials treatment of sexuality is considered offensive. Approximately 20% of challenges were based on this category, for books including Grapes of Wrath and Slaughterhouse Five. These and many other books banned from schools and libraries contain the history and culture Americans must learn from.
Two books, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are currently banned in many public schools and libraries because of their use of a particular word offensive to all but especially to those of the African American race. But these words are part of the American culture. American culture, just like every other culture of the world, is not a buffet. Americans do not get to pick and choose what they think is appropriate for their nation. Our past is our past and not acknowledging it by refusing to read and learn about it is just as insulting to our ancestors as the words and situations contained in the books that are ban. By reading about it the children of America can understand and relate to their country’s past and their country’s mistakes and their country’s horrors and learn how to create their country’s future and their country’s merits and their country’s blessings. But when American’s, as stewards for the next generation refuse to prepare the next in line then they are given leave to repeat our frailty's and our fault's.