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"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to." Granville Hicks iii

Banned Books

Try an experiment. Walk up behind a librarian and say the word "banned book" or "censorship" really loud. Be prepared to see the professional book guardian's entire body shudder, jump, drop something he or she is holding on to and scream.

Although they may seem unobtrusive, American librarians, along with teachers and booksellers, are some of the greatest champions of freedom of expression and the first amendment.

Since 1982, the American Library Association, or ALA, has dedicated the last week in September to banned books. During Banned Book Week, or BBW, the ALA educates and celebrates with citizens about the freedoms that they should not take for granted. These freedoms include the right to read or express opinions , even if the seem a little weird or unpopular.v

Children's Books

In 1989, two school districts in California banned an illustrated version of "Little Red Riding Hood," known as Little Red-Cap from Grimm's Fairy Tales, because the girl in the book brings wine along with food to her grandmother. Concerns circulated about the appearance of alcohol in the story.

Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were banned from one public library in Concord, Mass., and restricted from the children's section in many other libraries. In 1998, one parent went to a federal appeals court in attempt to have the book removed from a school's list of required reading.

Banned Elsewhere

America certainly isn't the harshest land for censorship in the world.

From 1926 until 1956 many copies of The Bible and The Quran were taken from shelves in the Soviet Union and others were barred from entering the country.

E for Ecstasy , about the drug MDMA, was banned by the Australian government in 1994. In 2000, the book was still banned there. In the U.S., Congress is trying to pass an anti-drug information bill that would make distribution of certain types of drug information illegal, such as this book. viii

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Banned Media: Print

Challenged American Classics

Throughout history, censors have attempted to stifle many works that later went on to best seller lists, classics and even changed the way people saw their world.

  • Leaves of Grass , Walt Whitman's famous poetry collection, got removed from shelves in Boston in 1881. Explicit language in some of the poems caused the district attorney to threaten with criminal prosecution.
  • The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason , by Thomas Paine, forged the way for American revolutionaries and for his personal indictment for treason in 1792 in England. Publishers of The Age of Reason, which argued for Deism over Christianity and Atheism, were also prosecuted just for printing the book.
  • Lady Chatterly's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, went to many trials both in the U.S. and U. K. for obscenity in the '60s.
  • Teaching Darwin's Origin of Species landed teacher John T. Scopes with a criminal conviction after he lectured to his high school class in 1925 in Tennessee. The state legislature repealed the law that prohibited teaching evolutionary theory in 1967. As recently as 1996, people there proposed laws that would still restrict teaching evolution in science classes. vi
  • Howl , a poem by Allen Ginsberg, survived many censorship trials and continues to be one of the most read poems of the twentieth century. The poem has also been translated into 22 languages.vii