Book censorship, banning, and burning are happening across America for showcasing diversity to children and young adults. While banning books isn’t new, this wave of book banning targets stories written by authors of color that show themes of diversity and differences.
What Is Book Censorship?
Censorship is “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable (Webster).” When applied to reading, this is an extension of deciding what books and stores are considered objectionable and have the motive to be suppressed and deleted.
Who Can Censor And Ban Books?
Governments and private groups can perform evaluations, audits, and undergo the process for censorship.
Is Book Censorship and Banning Legal?
The NCAC shares that “not all forms of censorship are illegal. When private individuals agitate to eliminate TV programs they dislike or threaten to boycott the companies that support those programs with advertising dollars, they are certainly trying to censor artistic expression and interfere with the free speech of others. But their actions are perfectly legal; in fact, their protests are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Not even all government censorship is unlawful. For example, we still have laws against “obscenity” in art and entertainment. These laws allow the government to punish people for producing or disseminating material about sex, if a judge or jury thinks the material is sufficiently offensive and lacks any “serious value.””
While that is informative, how does this relate to the book banning and censorship currently happening across The United States? Many people are asking the question––what is the basis for free expression in the United States and what does the First Amendment protect when it comes to reading?
What Is the First Amendment?
“The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government (Cornell, First Amendment).” The First Amendment is applicable to the Government at the national, state, and local level. This is why many are speaking out and engaging their right under this Amendment to keep books on the shelves.
Why You Should Care About Book Censorship
“The First Amendment exists to protect speech and activities that are unpopular—if only those ideas which were popular were protected, it wouldn’t be needed. Limiting free speech is unAmerican—without it, all our rights and liberties quickly disintegrate. Censorship is an assault on the rights of all of us. We must continue to fight for the freedom to read, to see, to know, and to think for ourselves (NCAC, What Is Censorship?).”
Why Is Book Banning An Issue?
It’s a violation of freedom. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has dedicated themselves over the last 50 years to act” as a first responder to protect this freedom, which is both a fundamental human right and a keystone of democracy in the ever-changing American nation. [The NCAC promotes] freedom of thought and inquiry and opposes censorship. When controversy occurs, [they] encourage and facilitate dialogue between divergent voices and perspectives, including those that have historically been silenced.”
What Books Are Being Challenged, Burned, Banned, And Censored?
- A children’s picture book that had a child in a wheelchair was placed under review.
- A children’s picture book that showcases black hairstyles was banned.
- A book on American history and the links to social injustice and racism was banned.
- A book about LGBTQIA+ identification was banned.
- And more.
Diversity, disability, and differences are being banned and censored and it’s not okay. People need representation and the safe spaces that books provide for questions to be asked, for alternative lifestyles and points of view to be understood. Developing minds need to see that there is more in the world than what they know and/or will ever experience. This is why book censorship is dangerous.
How To Fight For Reading Freedom:
2. Speak Out Against The Ban And Challenge
3. Purchase And Read Banned Books
What To Do If You Don’t Want Your Children Reading Certain Books:
If you’re a parent, government official, or key decision-maker when it comes to what a child in your life reads, consider setting boundaries instead of banning, censoring, and burning these books. Have an honest conversation with the child/young adult and share why you don’t want them reading a book. I suggest creating a “value guide” together, which will help you and the young reader identify which books they are allowed to read based on family boundaries.
How to Create A Reader’s Value Guide
- Identify the values that you want your child to read in a book/series. Write them out.
- List books that are examples that support point number one.
- Create a list of books that are popular that you can work up to and read together.
- Open the dialogue and allow your young reader to understand why they may not be ready to read a certain book, topic, or why it goes against the family values.
(NCAC, What Is Censorship?)National Coalition Against Censorship, What Is Censorship?, Available at: https://ncac.org/resource/what-is-censorship
(Cornell, First Amendment), Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institue: First Amendment U.S. Constitution: US Law, Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment