Book Banning in Libraries Essay

Submitted By collier2340
Words: 3576
Pages: 15

Books of Knowledge
A Discussion about the Freedom Censorship of Books in Public School Libraries
Collier Wimmer
High Point University

Introduction Book-banning in school libraries is only the latest battleground in a centuries-old war over the censorship of ideas. Twenty years after Johann Gutenberg’s invention, the first popular books were printed and sold in Germany; within another 20 years, Germany’s first official censorship office was established when a local archbishop pleaded with town officials to censor “dangerous publications ("Gutenberg Bible," n.d).” In England, Henry VIII established a licensing system requiring printers to submit all manuscripts to Church of England authorities for approval and in 1529, he outlawed all imported publications ("Gutenberg Bible," n.d). By 1559, in reaction to the spread of Protestantism and scientific inquiry, the Roman Catholic Church issued the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, likely the first published and most notorious list of forbidden books. The purpose of the Index was to guide secular censors in their decisions as to which publications to allow and which to prohibit, since printers were not free to publish books without official permission ("Gutenberg Bible," n.d). Censorship followed the European settlers to America. In 1650, a religious pamphlet by William Pynchon was confiscated by Puritan authorities in Massachusetts, condemned by the General Court and burned by the public executioner in the Boston marketplace. The incident is considered to be the first book-burning in America ("First Amendment Site," n.d. ). The pioneer of modern American censorship was Anthony Comstock, who founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. In 1873, using slogans such as “Morals, not art and literature,” he convinced Congress to pass a law, thereafter known as the “Comstock Law,” banning the mailing of materials found to be “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene.” Between 1874 and 1915, as special agent of the U.S. Post Office, he is estimated to have confiscated 120 tons of printed works. Under his reign, 3,500 people were prosecuted although only about 350 were convicted. Books banned by Comstock included many classics: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Authors whose works were subsequently censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and many others whose works are now deemed to be classics of literature ("First Amendment Site," n.d.). Despite the lessons of the past, incidents of book banning have continued to the present. Many of the most recent incidents occur at a local level, in public schools and libraries. Henry Reichman (2001), in Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools, defines censorship as: “[T]he removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic or educational material — of images, ideas and information — on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable in light of standards applied by the censor (p. 10).” People trying to ban books from libraries do not usually regard their efforts as censorship. A member of the community, school board member or parent objects to, or “challenges,” a book, requesting its removal or sequestration so that students may not have free access to it. Most frequently, books are challenged because they contain profanity or violence, sex or sex education, homosexuality, witchcraft and the occult, “secular humanism” or “new age” philosophies, portrayals of rebellious children, or “politically incorrect,” racist or sexist language (Reichman, 2001, p.12). Censorship and removal of materials from school library collections has risen significantly in recent decades (Doyle, 2014). Consequentially, censorship