Essential Question: Does censorship in school libraries violate students First Amendment rights to free speech?
Censorship by definition is, to suppress or prohibit any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, controversial, or a threat to security. Every book is open to criticism, but no one should be allowed to decide that one is not allowed to read it because the content is ‘controversial’. Where does protecting children interfere with their right to learn and explore the world around them? Banning books interferes with this right. In many court cases, we see individual or small groups of parents/administrators who try to decide how the community of children should be taught. In one of the most famous court cases, Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), members of the school board in the Island Trees School District ordered many books taken out of the junior high and high school libraries. They claimed the books were, “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy”. This caused student Steven Pico to lead a group of students to sue the school district for denying their First Amendment rights. Justice Brennan elected that freedom of speech includes the right to read library books of their choosing, and although schools have the ability to sensor language, this does not cover books in the library. Should this small group of parents be able to determine what books are available in school libraries?
Students attending any public school should have access to any book in the library. School librarians have the power to select which books are purchased for students to read, but they should not be chosen for political/religious reasons, they should be chosen because they have important lessons or messages students should be exposed to. One book I read in English class, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is on the list of most commonly banned books from 2000-2009. It is often banned for its repeated use of unsavory language, atheism, and low moral tone. Banning these books takes the rights of the students away, because they lose the ability to learn through the books messages. Huck Finn is a strong example because it teaches about racial history at the time, the moral dilemma of Huck when he decides whether or not to turn in Jim, a runaway slave, and demonstrates the North and the South at the time through Huck Finn’s eyes. Censoring books so severely is indeed taking away students free speech. You not only take away their decision to read whatever they wish, but are taking away essential moral lessons they would learn through these books. Everyone, no matter their age should have non-censored free access to all information.