The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. -From The Freedom to Read Statement, ALA Website-
Banned Books Week is September 27th – October 4th.
- Shi Huang, in 213 BC, started the ritual of burning books when he ordered books destroyed which he perceived as a threat to his rule as the first emperor of China.
- On May 10, 1933 German students from renowned universities gathered in Berlin and other German cities to burn tens of thousands of books with “unGerman” ideas. Books by Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jack London, and H.G. Wells along with others written by gifted writers went up in smoke.
- In 1980 a cultural revolution was launched and bands of Hezbollahis and Islamists attacked, destroyed and burnt libraries in Iran.
What do each of these examples have in common? They are an expression of a Government’s power to impose its own ideology on a people. Most Americans will read this and believe that what happened in 213 BC China, and 1930s Germany and 1980s Iran is far removed from their own experience in 2008 USA. But they would be wrong.
Americans freedom to read is challenged daily – often by local governments or fundamentalist religious groups. Books in the United States have been censored, banned, removed from libraries and taken out of schools. Often books come under attack because they conflict with somebody’s religious beliefs or they express a point of view which someone deems amoral. When we interfere with someone’s freedom to read we are imposing our ideology on that person.
I believe people have a right to pursue (or not) their own spiritual or religious path; they have a right to voice their thoughts on morality, politics, or world view. But I do not believe they have the right to tell someone else what to believe and then impose that by removing from society any reading material which does not support their ideology. That is why I track all the books I read which have been banned or censored. That is why at one time I moderated a Banned Books Group on Yahoo. That is why I contribute to Bonnie’s Banned Books Blog. And that is why when I read this article, I was alarmed enough to do something I do not normally do on this blog – introduce politics.
I’m not here to discuss my thoughts on Sarah Palin’s religious views because those should not have anything to do with her job as Vice President if the McCain/Palin ticket were to be elected in November. I do not want to know about Sarah Palin’s religious views. And I do not want her religious views and her sense of what is or is not moral imposed on me or any other American. I am appalled to think that Palin tried to do just that in her position of Mayor of Wasilla by pressuring the City librarian to remove or censor books from the library. Her letter to said librarian “requesting” her resignation was (according to Palin) just a test of loyalty. To me it smacks of bullying.
Here’s a good question – shouldn’t a Mayor be more concerned with crime, transportation and housing…rather than censoring books? Is Palin’s sense of righteousness so much a part of who she is that she could not separate her own personal beliefs from doing her job as Mayor? Do we really want our elected officials telling us what we can and cannot read?
Thomas Jefferson introduced the concept of Separation of Church and State as an inherent part of our First Amendment Rights. Although there is much discussion about this concept, it is clear that our Founding Fathers meant for religion to be removed from the act of governing our country. Does anyone think they would have approved of the government (local, state or federal) censoring or banning books as a way of imposing religious ideology on others? I don’t think so.
Sarah Palin’s brief tenure as a Mayor of a small Alaskan town (population approximately 9000), and her even shorter stint as Governor of Alaska (where she is currently under investigation on ethics charges) may be the only way for Americans to measure her ability to separate her strongly held fundamentalist beliefs from her sought after position of Vice President (and potentially President) of the United States. We should all consider this before entering the voting booth in November.
**Please be respectful in your comments. I welcome dialogue on this issue of BANNING BOOKS. Any disrespectful, flame-type comments will be immediately deleted.