30 Years of Defending Intellectual Freedom

The 30th Banned Books Week begins on Sunday, Sept. 30, shining a bright light on the liberties represented in the U.S. First Amendment.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment,” wrote Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, “it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

For the past three decades, the American Library Association, along with booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all stripes, have used the last week of September to highlight the value of free and open access to information.

This year’s commemoration is Sept. 30 – Oct. 6 and features:

There’s a helpful page on the ALA website explaining the difference between banned and challenged books and why certain books are challenged.

Many of the books frequently challenged are ones you’d expect to encounter in high school: The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Call of the Wild (see a longer list of challenged classics). This attempt at censorship in schools, I think, is a distinct danger because if you encounter ideas that challenge or confuse you, it seems to me there’s no better place to do so than in a classroom, where you have the ability to discuss these concepts, ask questions, listen to other points of view, and share or reassess your own.

Have you ever read a banned or challenged book? How will you commemorate Banned Books Week?

Writing that inspired me this week:

“When friends asked what they could do to help he often pleaded, ‘Defend the text.’ The attack was very specific, yet the defense was often a general one, resting on the mighty principle of freedom of speech. He hoped for, he often felt he needed, a more particular defense, like the quality defense made in the cases of other assaulted books, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Ulysses, Lolita; because this was a violent assault not on the novel in general or on free speech per se, but on a particular accumulation of words, and on the intentions and integrity and ability of the writer who had put those words together…and so, for many years, The Satanic Verses was denied the ordinary life of a novel. It became something smaller and uglier: an insult.”
~ Salman Rushdie, from his memoir Joseph Anton