Intellectual Freedom and Censorship in Literature

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“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

—Supreme Court Justice
William O. Douglas

The first amendment to the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” However, we have seen throughout history that many times “freedom of speech” isn’t always that free.

There has been a struggle to eliminate the banning of certain books and we must promote the freedom to choose what we read and how we express our opinions. The ALA defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group,” and a banning as “the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.” (www.ala.org/bbooks/home.)

Intellectual freedom is defined as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.” If we are to exercise intellectual freedom, we must discontinue banning books.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom was established December 1, 1967, and their mission is to “implement ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.” They office educates librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries. (http://www.ala.org/offices/oif)

It is imperative that students are given the right to debate, discuss, analyze, and disseminate texts regardless of their content. Although some books include sexual, profane, and racist content, by censoring these books, we are not protecting children; rather we are leading them to believe that these are topics not worthy of discussion. If we allow book censorship, our freedom to read, see, and hear is being taken away. While we should be able to exercise the right to restrict what we our children and ourselves read and see, we must not prevent others from reading or viewing such material. Requesting to ban material “restricts another person’s ability to choose.” (http://www.ila.org/BannedBooks/BBW_2012-2013_Shortlist.pdf)

As teachers, librarians, parents, students, and members of society, we must advocate for the right to choose what we read, see, and hear.

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