We are in the midst of Banned Books Week, an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read, draws attention to banned and challenged books and highlights persecuted individuals. This campaign has brought awareness to the censorship placed on many books throughout our country for years.
The awareness campaign may not hold much meaning anymore. As Ruth Graham describes, Banned Books Week “traffics in fear-mongering over censorship, when in fact the truth is much sunnier: There is basically no such thing as a ‘banned book’ in the United States in 2015.” Graham argues that instead of complaining about nonexistent censorship, we should take this time to celebrate the fact that books won.
There was a time in our country’s history when book bans were a extremely prevalent and serious issue. The Comstock Law, passed by Congress in 1873, made it illegal to circulate “obscene literature.” This law led to the ban of classic books, such as The Canterbury Tales and the actual prosecution of publishers and booksellers of forbidden novels such as Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill. If your local library or bookstore did not carry a book, it would be extremely difficult to find it anywhere.
It was not until 1982 that things began to change. In the Supreme Court decision, Island Trees School District v. Pico, the court ruled that local school boards cannot remove books from their libraries simply because they are offended by them. With the growth of technology and the emergence of the internet, it is now possible to gain access to any book in the world in a matter of seconds. The idea of a banned book or the inability to access a particular novel is not really a concern in our country anymore.
There is no question that books have won the battle over censorship. The growth of technology, as well as a more sensible approach by our society, has helped secure this victory. The rhetoric around Banned Books Week sheds light on the differences in the past and the present, showing the great progress our country has made. However, it also brings attention to the fact that we need to continue to explore the difference between a general availability of a book in a public school and inclusion of such book in a school curricula.
If a parent merely questions the presence of a book on a required reading, it should not be viewed as an attempt to remove the book from circulation at the school or local library. Unfortunately this is how organizations that run Banned Books Week tend to view it. Instead, we need to continue to maintain an open dialogue between the two parties. If parents raise concerns over the bad language, violence, or sexual content of a book it should not be viewed as a move for censorship, but rather a move to protect their children.
These decisions should be viewed on a case by case basis. Afterall, each town in our country has a different set of values and way of life. A single attempt to remove a book from a school curricula is not a threat to censorship. At the end of the day, books have won. This is something to celebrate.