November 3, 2017
Just recently passed the last week of September and, with it, Banned Books Week. This week is described by the American Library Association (ALA) as a week “in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
There are currently over 11,300 banned books in the United States and most have been banned for one of three reasons: sexually explicit material, offensive language or unsuitability for any audience, according to the Office of Intellectual Freedom. Some of the most popular books and series of this century are actually banned, including the Harry Potter series, The Bridge to Terabithia, and the Hunger Games trilogy.
In order for a book to be banned, it must first be challenged. Although anyone can press to ban a book, a study done by the ALA shows that 42 percent of book challenges are by parents. While these challenges are presented as a way to “protect” the books’ audiences (usually children and young adults) from unsuitable ideas, they are the center of a great debate over the constitutionality of this practice.
In the 1989 Supreme Court case Texas vs. Johnson over the right to burn the U.S. flag, Justice William Brennan Jr., said, “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.”
Yes, our inherent right to read is protected by the First Amendment, however, the banning of books is not only an attempt to remove the accessibility of these controversial books from the public, it is an insidious way to restrict our ability to craft our own opinions and views. Charles Brownstein, chair of the Banned Books Week Coalition, spoke to this by stating that, “Our free society depends on the right to access, evaluate and voice a wide range of ideas. Book bans chill that right.” Having a book be inaccessible to a population is depriving that population of the knowledge in that book and, subsequently, creating a less knowledgeable, less dimensional population.
Fortunately, many banned books are still readily accessible in libraries and schools. Not only are they available for self-reading, many classic titles such as “The Great Gatsby”, “1984”, “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and “To Kill a Mockingbird”, just to name a few, are all books schools teach as extremely influential in the shaping of our country, despite all being banned.
The ability and privilege to be able to read and learn from the diverse collection of books that circulate us is one that should not be taken for granted. Every individual book presents a unique take on a world and addresses a problem that potentially could appear in our own lives in some shape or form.
A joint statement by the American Library Association and the Association of American Publishers known as The Freedom to Read Statement says, “Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe.”