Why books get banned -or- 'Free People Read Freely'

7 Conversations

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“We must teach students about their First Amendment rights rather than restrict their use of particular books and materials. As educators, we must encourage students to express their own opinions while respecting the views of others.”

'Protect Our Freedom of Speech, Teach It?' Pat Scales

From The American Library Association Banned Books Week 1999 Resource Guide

Throughout history people have banned, burned, and suppressed books in an attempt to 'protect' or control access to controversial or unacceptable ideas.

Sometimes the materials are obviously controversial in nature, sometimes the reasons to ban are so farfetched as to be absurd. For example Copernicus was subjected to persecution from the Church and his writtings banned because he promoted the 'heretical' thought that the Earth was not the center of the universe. This was obviously a 'biggie'.
Tarzan and Jane by Edgar Rice Burroughs was found objectionable because the happy couple did not pursue their relationship within the bonds of matrimony--there was no minister around to marry them! The book was therefore considered morally unfit for children. This is not so obviously a big deal.

But, both are examples of how a community acts to suppress ideas it finds objectionable. The principle is the same, and is equally indefensible. The problem is, WHO decided what is to be banned???? If I am in charge it is OK. BUT if YOU are banning books, you might ban something that I think shouldnt be. So who should be in charge? And if the majority thinks something should be banned, does that mean it should be??? Refer to Copernicus, above, before answering.

All answers should be in 'official' blue books, written in black or blue ink. You may consult reference works in preparing your entry. In case of tie, duplicate prizes will be awarded. Please enclose stamped SASE. I dont know why.

Banned Book Week

'Free People Read Freely'

Each year Banned Books Week (BBW) is sponsored by the American Library Association, together with the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.

Banned Books Week (BBW) celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met. As the Intellectual Freedom Manual (ALA, 5th edition) states:

“Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected.”

What has been banned?

Here are some examples of books and authors that have been banned, or demanded to be banned, in the United States. Remember, the question here is who should decide if YOU should be able to read these books? You, or someone else? And if they are children's books, should YOU be able to decide if you want your child to read them, or should someone else decide that for you, too?

Modern Library Best Books of the 20th Century

In 1998, when the Modern Library published its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, it sparked considerable debate over what is and isn’t a great novel.

Exactly a third of the titles on the list of “best” novels, including 6 of the top 10, have been removed or threatened with removal from bookstores, libraries and schools at some point. The Grapes of Wrath, number 10 on the list, has been one of the most vilified works since its publication in 1939. Burned at the St. Louis (Mo.) Public Library immediately after publication, it also was banned from the Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Library because of “vulgar words.” It was challenged in the Greenville (S.C.) schools because it used the names of God and Jesus “in a vain and profane manner” and was banned in Kern County (Calif.) where the story was set. It continues to be one of the most challenged books in schools and libraries.

Other banned books in the Modern Library’s “Top Ten” include The Great Gatsby and Brave New World. Today, it’s hard to imagine a library or a school curriculum without these works. Fortunately, few books are permanently banned from library and bookstore shelves in the United States. Why? Because librarians, booksellers, educators, parents and others actively defend our right to read.

The fact is that 33 books of the 100 books on the Modern Library's “best” list have been either banned or challenged.

Examples of Court rulings on banning books.

From the ALA
Notable First Amendment Court Cases


In deciding that Slaughterhouse-Five could not be banned from the libraries and classrooms of the Michigan schools, the Court of Appeals of Michigan declared: “Vonnegut’s literary dwellings on war, religion, death, Christ, God, government, politics, and any other subject should be as welcome in the public schools of this state as those of Machiavelli, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Melville, Lenin, Joseph McCarthy, or Walt Disney. The students of Michigan are free to make of Slaughterhouse-Five what they will.”

Todd v. Rochester Community Schools, 200 N.W.2d 90 (Mich. Ct. App. 1972)

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Cat’s Cradle.

The Strongsville City Board of Education rejected faculty recommendations to purchase Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and ordered the removal of Catch-22 and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle from the library. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against the School Board, upholding the students’ First Amendment right to receive information and the librarian’s right to disseminate it. “The removal of books from a school library is a much more serious burden upon the freedom of classroom discussion than the action found unconstitutional in Tinker v. Des Moines School District.”

Minarcini v. Strongsville (Ohio) City School District, 541 F.2d 577 (6th Cir. 1976)

Nine banned titles: Slaughterhouse-Five [and others].

In 1975, three school board members sought the removal of several books determined objectionable by a politically conservative organization. The following February, the board gave an “unofficial direction” that the books be removed from the school libraries, so that board members could read them. When the board action attracted press attention, the board described the books as “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy.” The nine books that were the subject of the lawsuit were Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris; Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas; Best Short Stories of Negro Writers edited by Langston Hughes; Go Ask Alice ; Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge; Black Boy by Richard Wright; A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich by Alice Childress; and Soul on Ice by Eldrige Cleaver.

The board appointed a review committee that recommended that five of the books be returned to the shelves, two be placed on restricted shelves, and two be removed from the library. The full board voted to remove all but one book.

After years of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (5-4) the students’ challenge to the board’s action. The Court held that school boards do not have unrestricted authority to select library books and that the First Amendment is implicated when books are removed arbitrarily. Justice Brennan declared in the plurality opinion: “Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion”

Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982)

Some Intellectual Freedom OrganizationsALA Office of Intellectual Freedom
Banned Books On-line (Carnegie Mellon)
Index on Censorship

Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University

Electronic Frontier Foundation[The Blue Ribbon Campaign people]
Global Internet Liberty Campaign

More links may be found at
ACLU Free Speech and Censorship Internet ResourcesSome More Banned Books & Authors

Adler & Robin Books, a Literary Agent, provides this list of authors and books that have been banned in the US. Remember this is NOT all of them.

Banned authors.

James Joyce's Ulysses was prohibited from the United States, and the U.S. Postal Service actually seized copies between 1918 and 1930. The U.S. Postal and Customs Departments have been actively involved in seizing and banning numerous books including Voltaire's Candide , Aristophanes's Lysistrata , Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Confessions , and Chaucer's Canterbury's Tales . Locally, schools and school districts have banned Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice , and Little Red Riding Hood .

States have been vigorous censorship advocates, as well: Anyone familiar with the history of banning books knows about Tennessee's efforts to bar the teaching of Darwin's Origin of the Species .

Banned titles.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Blubber by Judy Blume

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Canterbury Tales by Chaucer

Carrie by Stephen King

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Christine by Stephen King

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Cujo by Stephen King

Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen

Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite

Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Decameron by Boccaccio

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers

Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Forever by Judy Blume

Grendel by John Champlin Gardner

Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam

Have to Go by Robert Munsch

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Impressions edited by Jack Booth

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

It's Okay if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

My House by Nikki Giovanni

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

Night Chills by Dean Koontz

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ordinary People by Judith Guest

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Separate Peace by John Knowles

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Bastard by John Jakes

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth

The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks

The Living Bible by William C. Bower

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders

The Shining by Stephen King

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder

Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster
Editorial Staff

Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more