Banned and Challenged Books in the US
The American Library Association (ALA) plays a key role in the U.S. as it promotes library education both domestically and across the globe. While it condemns censorship by all means, it has to ensure that Americans receive appropriate information from different books printed within its reach. Therefore, ALA has spearheaded the challenging and banning of different books depending on their message and how they affect the targeted audience. According to ALA, a large majority of the challenges posed to reading material are made by concerned parents who feel like their children are being exposed to more that they can actually consume (Carefoote 13). Banned books range from fictional narratives to biographical nonfiction, from centuries-old classics to contemporary best sellers, and from adult erotica to children’s fairy tales. With effort from committed librarians, students, teachers, and parents, challenge posts ensure that books are only banned for valid reasons. When a book is banned, it has to fall under specific factors. Primarily, the message portrayed by the writer must render the material challenging to preserve and defend. Books are banned for many reasons, and while there is support both for and against censorship, each individual must take his/her own stance in accordance with personal beliefs.
Frequently Challenged Content
Generally, the books that generate most challenges seem to be those whose target audience are young people below the age of 18. Most challengers feel that their intentions are suitable, especially since they seek to protect children from accessing difficult information and ideas. If such a book lands in a child’s hands, parents feel that the subject matter will alter the child’s views on certain concepts such as sexual orientation, language, and violence. However, it has been noted that almost every book in existence has had challenges by people trying to ensure that it is banned. This means that some people will still find offensive content in a book, regardless of popular opinion. Based on my research, books about sex and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) sex are particularly challenged and banned (Carefoote 22). Books that expressed homosexuality, such as Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, as well as those that discuss suicide have been challenged and banned. Given that LGBTQ issues have received increased attention with many people coming out and encouraging others to follow suit, most books with such content have received challenges from those in opposition (Leigh 1). ALA has clarified that it does not ban books just because somebody called for it. Rather, ALA evaluates the content and arrives at a decision depending on how the stakeholders feel about it.
Challenges and banning seem to emulate concerns of socially contentious issues in a given time period. One current trend involves traditional and LGBTQ sexuality. According to an annual report by the American Library Association, LGBTQ themed content has highly contributed to the banning of books in America. Of the top five banned books banned over the last year, each had an LGBTQ story or character (Leigh 1). One such book, titled ‘This One Summer,’ included LGBT characters and drug use was determined unacceptable. Queer themed titles, such as Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, have also received significant challenges. A similarly LGBTQ themed story about a 16-year-old transgender reality star, I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings, was also banned for its content.
Similar to content about sexual orientation, terrorism remains a topic of concern in American society. As such, books deemed to promote violence or acts of terrorism have also received intense scrutiny. Open access to un-tampered information is a basic human, but it is important to ensure that the right aspects of society are maintained (Crum 1). Since terrorism and radicalization can be promoted through books, most librarians and challengers have been on the look out to ensure that such books do not make their way into the hands of the people. Given the current tension in America, the right to such information has to be restricted in order to limit actions or thoughts of terror from influencing young readers (Doyle 27).
Freedom of speech is a vital component of American life. Actions that seek to eliminate any portion of that freedom seem to encounter robust challenges. Banishing various books from public spaces is a deliberate form of censorship. As such, banning books has encountered legal challenges. Legal precedent was established in 1982 in the case of Board of Education of the Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico and then later enhanced via the 1988 Supreme Court decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (Bryeno, 541).
As public institutions, public school libraries inherently possess an obligation to provide diverse information and material to those who would use the facility. Through censorship of specific genres, political or religious bias, or any other category, the library runs the risk of alienating, either wilfully or otherwise, a specific demographic. In the 1982 Supreme Court case, this concern was highlighted, and the opinion seems to reflect this. In essence, public libraries have the freedom to stock the shelves with material of the Board of Directors’ choosing, with the caveat that the board does not have absolute authority and that censorship must be “pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable” (543). In the Hazelwood case, censorship in public schools was strengthened by stipulating that student rights in a school setting are not the same as the rights of others in the general public and that educators have greater need to tailor lesson content consistent with educational objectives (544).
Case in Support of Banning Books
Graphic sexual content has been a major target for banning bools. Consider the banning of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ in the 1980s: Although it had no explicit sex scenes, the book was labelled as a sex novel due to overall detail. Sexual content remains at the helm of literary challenges, as it can be a dangerous, self-destructive weapon for humanity. Many parents simply would not like for their children to acquire such books (Doyle 47).
Violence has also been cited as a major reason why many books are banned. In 1974, the Strongsville Board of Education was forced to ban the book titled One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, after complainants claimed that the book glorified criminal activities such as torture, human elimination, bizarre violence, death, dismemberment, corrupt juveniles and description of bestiality. According to members of ALA, simply asking to ban a book is an insufficient reason for removing it from school curriculum or a library despite the fact they receive a lot of threats from different people (Carefoote 26). In the event that a book is challenged, it is clear that there are authors who will not relent their fight to ensure that they reflect a range of humanity via writing. For this reason, they will continue doing so despite the current challenges.
Negativity is another major concern for challengers. Opponents claim that some books are too sad for people to suffer through (Crum 1). For example, Lord of the Flies was challenged at a North Carolina high school in 1981, not because of the violence portrayed within but because of the book’s negativity. According to challengers, the book was demoralizing by implying that man is little more than an animal. Similarly in Alabama, a book by Anne Frank, titled The Diary of a Young Girl, was banned for being too depressing. Although negativity may seem to be a weak reason for challenging or banning a book, successful challengers set precedent for future banning of such books, as seen in the Alabama case (Leigh 1).
Themes of drug use, racism, and profanity are some of the other reasons for banning books. Drug use themes encourage young people to engage in experimentation that can be catastrophic to young lives. Racist ideas can be picked easily from the book and terribly change the way that some people view others. Books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and To Kill a Mockingbird were seen to explore racial themes and were banned as a result. In South Carolina, books like Ku Klux Klan have been removed from school libraries due to profanity. Profanity may also cover blasphemy where people feel like they are being targeted (Crum 1). Such was the case with The Great Gatsby being banned.
Case Against Banning Books
While many people may agree with the reasons for banning a book, others may have strong feelings in defence of keeping all books on the shelves. They contend that readers may actually get something from a banned book and therefore would prefer having it as a personal choice to decide whether to read it or not. While an individual may not like a particular book, it may be of benefit to others. As such, there is no need to take a book away from those who may support the content (Leigh 1). Then, there is the thought that protecting children from the difficult reality of the world is a futile exercise, as there are more sources where information can be shared. For example, the book Thirteen Reason Why was also produced as a movie, meaning that more people were able to access it despite its previous ban (Doyle 26). Furthermore, books are among the best teachers available. Lastly, many banned books are later celebrated classics. Instead of removing books from libraries, people should be free to choose what to consume or not.
Banning of various books, while questionable, has been a legally accepted practice since the Supreme Court decision of Board of Education of the Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico. Although the American Library Association condemns the act of censorship, the association supports the need for libraries to supply appropriate information to its patrons. As such, books often banned from libraries typically contain vulgar, offensive, violent, or sexual material. Support for censorship and support against censorship both have valid points and counterpoints. Therefore, the advocacy or opposition of censorship is an individual choice based on a variety of social and moral beliefs.
Brenyo, M. (2011). Chalk talk – censored]: Book banning in the US education system. Journal of Law and Education, 40(3), 541-549. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/docview/875885783?accountid=8289
Carefoote, Pearce J. Forbidden Fruit: Banned, Censored, and Challenged Books from Dante to Harry Potter. Toronto: LMB Editions, 2007. Print.
Crum, Maddie. These are the 10 most banned and challenged books in America right now. Huffingtonpost. 2017. Accessed from and https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/most-banned-and-challenged-books-in-america_us_58ecf60be4b0df7e20459961
Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books: Challenging our freedom to read. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2010.
Doyle, Robert P. Books Challenged or Banned 2015-2016. American Library Association, 2016.
Leigh, Jamie. 10 Reasons for Banning Books, and much better reasons not to. Punchnels. 2014. Accessed from http://www.punchnels.com/2014/09/18/10-reasons-for-banning-books-and-5-much-better-reasons-not-to/