Banned Books Article

Written by: 
Edie Strate

Banned Books Week 2013, September 22-28, is an annual event celebrating Freedom to Read. This freedom is based upon the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Those who seek to limit or censor access to certain materials may come from all directions and from all political and religious backgrounds. A challenge is based on more than just one person’s view; it is a concerted effort to remove the book from a school or library. A ban is the actual removal. Most challenges are unsuccessful, largely in part because they violate First Amendment rights. Of course, individuals can and should choose what they read, and parents are encouraged to be involved in their children’s reading choices, but they cannot make those choices for others.
The American Library Association (ALA) posts on its website, “Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. … said most eloquently: ‘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.’”
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks the challenges and bans on books and ideas. Notable classics challenged or banned include:

  • 1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • 2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  • 3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • 4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 5.Ulysses, by James Joyce 6.Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

    More recent titles include:
  • 7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • 8. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
  • 9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • 10. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

The Illinois Library Association reports an example of an attempt by middle school parents in Liberty, S.C. (2012) to ban an easy-to-read version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, produced by Sparknotes’ No-Fear Shakespeare on the basis of its sexual and mature content.

Banned Books Week is a celebration of our freedom to read. No government agency or entity has the right to limit our access to information and reading materials. Parents who are concerned about the content of a book for their child, such as violence or sexual explicitness, have the right to choose for themselves or their child, but they are prohibited from making that determination for others.

Despite increased access to information through the internet and other media, we still owe it to ourselves and to future generations to remain vigilant to ensure that access is preserved for everyone. So celebrate your freedom, and check out a copy of Romeo and Juliet!