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Research Paper

  1. 1. Hughley 1 Morgan Hughley Ms. Tillery AP Literature November 14, 2011 Censorship Writing is an outlet, a way for many authors to put their soul on paper, to take their innermost thoughts and invite readers to immerse themselves in a glimpse of a writer’s personal world. This notion puts writing on a highly emotional and very delicate level. With so much time invested into each individual sentence on a page, an author has a connection to his or her work like that of a mother to her child. However, that connection is sometimes threatened by various people in society who believe that a book’s content should follow suitable guidelines. In other words, numerous novels, many of which are literary classics, are being banned across the nation in a widespread cry for censorship. “Censorship is when a person or group successfully imposes their values upon others by stifling words, images or [thoughts] and preventing them from reaching the public marketplace of ideas” (Gould). Censorship of books is a global problem that many authors still have to face and is a grueling process that sometimes eliminates creativity and the special world that a writer tries so hard to create. Moreover, censorship has caused many different important ideas to become rejected in society. “A climate of intellectual freedom is one where any individual may express any belief or opinion regardless of the viewpoint or belief of any other individual, organization, or governmental entity” (Symons). This “intellectual freedom” is threatened daily by the act of censorship. Censorship takes original thoughts and twists them to suit certain people’s wants. Also, books with literary merit are often sought out to be removed from stores and libraries due to cursing, sexual references, certain religious aspects, and many more similar reasons. “In
  2. 2. Hughley 2 1985, the one hundredth anniversary year of publication of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's classic narrative… became the subject of intense controversy over perceived racism in the novel” (Rise in Censorship). If each piece of writing that was criticized for being unacceptable was taken away, there would hardly be any reading material available at all. With a dependency on censorship, a void of knowledge would appear because the nation would be lacking the deep understanding that books so often teach.. Also, another major problem with many people is that censorship is said to be against the First Amendment. The First Amendment grants free speech and when this is taken away, so are opinions and the right to express oneself. Censorship has existed since people first started writing down their ideas. From the time since there have been writers, there have also been people who do not agree with the writers. Although this is true, there was never a governmental name given to restrict writings in the United States until 1873. “What codified censorship was the Comstock Act, which called for the banning of literature deemed sexually [inappropriate], even indirectly” (Book Censorship). The Comstock Act was put in place under Ulysses S. Grant and banned the distribution of unsuitable material through mail or across state borders. The Comstock Act has been said to be unconstitutional, and for this reason, it has been challenged in court three separate times. Since then, the act has been slightly changed, but the concept still exists today. Patricia Schroeder, a former congresswoman, gave a speech to the House of Representatives condemning the Comstock Act. During this speech she remarked, “What this bill did was allow almost [Mr. Comstock], himself, to define what would be lewd, what would be filthy, or what would be things that should be banned” (Schroeder). One man made a decision that affected the freedom of expression for everybody in the United States. It is impossible to find the exact definition of
  3. 3. Hughley 3 what is inappropriate because everybody’s viewpoint on the matter differs. It is up to each individual person, not one figure, to decide what is unsuitable for them. As an example, the eyes of the nation were opened wide to censorship in 1982 when three members of the Board of Education for the Island Trees Union Free School District, located in New York, created a committee to ban nine books, believed to be inappropriate, that were found in the school library. The committee examined the books and came to a decision that five were educational enough to be returned back to the library. However, the school board disregarded this conclusion and instead only gave the library back one of these books. In result, Richard Pico, along with three other classmates, sued the school board due to First Amendment rights. At first, the district court ruled in favor of the school board without putting it to trial. Yet, this decision was changed on appeal and the case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court. With a close vote, Pico and the other students won the lawsuit and all banned books were allowed back into the school. A justice for the case went on to quote, “[students do not] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate” (Island Trees Union Free School District Board of Education v. Pico 1982). He means that students should not have to forfeit their civil liberties granted to them since birth just because they show up to learn. Censorship is a form of repression that is apparent in many public school systems and students subjected to these bans have their civil rights stripped away from them. As one author points out, “U.S. parents send their children to public schools to receive an education and to learn the fundamental values on which their democratic society is based” (Censorship). In other words, adolescents go to school to receive a direct education. This education does not need to be based upon opinions and others’ ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Even though in
  4. 4. Hughley 4 the case of Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico the students won their fight, there are many others across the globe that have lost their given rights in the battle against censorship. Likewise, there have also been many recent examples of censorship dealing more with contemporary novels. One current book series that has been put on trial numerous times is Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling because of its connection to the Wicca religion. In a specific case, Laura Mallory, resident of Loganville, Georgia, sued the Gwinnet County Board of Education to achieve a ban of the Harry Potter series. Her reasoning, besides religious motives, was that the books led to more violence in schools. Nevertheless, the attorney for the Gwinnet County Board of Education argued back that “if school were to remove all books containing reference to witches, they would have to ban ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Cinderella’” (Ga. Mother Seeks Harry Potter Ban). Due to this basis, the books were not banned and were able to remain on school shelves. However, Harry Potter is not the only modern novel that has been targeted for censorship. The novel Forever by Judy Blume has been challenged numerous times due to sexual content and language and Looking for Alaska, a book written by John Green, was questioned in New York due to very similar reasons. These writings and many more are disputed frequently in the United States alone. The belief in censorship has led many great works to be taken out of school curriculums and off of bookshelves, leaving behind a gap in knowledge and entertainment. Even though there are many people fighting for book censorship, there are numerous others who have taken steps to ward off these restrictions. Groups such as the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the American Library Association (ALA), the Defense of Literature and the Arts Society, and the Standing Committee Against Censorship have all been created to eliminate the banning of books and other writing materials. ALA even has a Banned
  5. 5. Hughley 5 Books Week from September 30 to October 6 in 2012 to celebrate how important freedom from censorship is and to highlight literature that has been banned before in history. Despite the great strides that these organizations have made, they are not the only tool against censorship. The internet itself has made vast advancements in gaining literary freedoms. “The explosive growth of the Internet and World Wide Web in the mid-1990s gave individuals unprecedented powers and freedom to publish personal views and images, objectionable or not, to the world from the safety of home computers” (Rasmus). When the internet spread rapidly through homes, so did the use of First Amendment rights. With the invention of the internet, society has been able to state its opinions and thoughts more easily, and because new information is being uploaded daily, it is much harder for censorship to exist. This does not mean that censorship is resolved, or will ever be resolved. There will always be people wanting to fight off certain ideas that they do not believe in. In spite of this, large improvements are being made to stop the threat of censorship from expanding any further. Consequently, censorship affects everybody, writers and readers, and civilization as a whole. The author of The Theory of Censorship, William Neilson, once stated, “The question of literary and dramatic censorship is not at the moment merely an annoying perplexity in the life of a single city, but is an issue which concerns the whole country” (Neilson). Cases over book content have been brought to court time after time, results differing with each individual suit. Even though in many instances courts rule against banning books, there are still occasions where censorship has won. The expurgation of a book deemed inappropriate by some may hurt another person who has found hope in the same text. One opinion cannot decide for a whole nation without rebellion. First Amendment rights are in place to protect the nation’s entitlement of
  6. 6. Hughley 6 expression. When books are censored, a part of the inspiration and ingenuity behind the piece is lost forever.