Celebrating Banned Books Week

For decades, the Religious Right has used public school students as pawns in the "culture wars," fighting to impose a political agenda on textbooks and curricula in school districts across the country. This has included battles over sex education, school-led prayer, publicly funded vouchers for religious institutions, and shaping what children learn by controlling the content of textbooks and access to books in school libraries and classrooms. People For the American Way Foundation has a long record of resisting censorship and defending the freedom to learn.

People For the American Way Foundation is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read -- and an opportunity for readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, and First Amendment advocates to call for continued vigilance against efforts to restrict that freedom. This year’s Banned Books Week has a focus on Young Adult books, which are challenged more frequently than any others.

"These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends,” says Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. As author Sherman Alexie said in response to the censorship of one of his young adult novels, “Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human. To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”

Platt describes the importance of Banned Books Week at the Reading Rainbow blog:

Banned Books Week is celebrated each year because efforts are underway in many parts of this country to remove “offensive” materials from public libraries, school libraries, and classroom reading lists. Arguments can be made for involving parents in the education of their children, and giving them an opportunity to voice objections when some reading material runs counter to their own values, but problems arise when that parent wants to dictate what all children can or cannot read. In the Coda to Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury said: “There’s more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

Many libraries and bookstores are sponsoring events honoring Banned Books Week. Kelly Adams, a children's book specialist at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minn., spoke with Minnesota Public Radio:

"Banned Books Week is my favorite week of the whole year. Seriously, it's better than Christmas.... Promoting books that have been banned or challenged shines a light on these attempts at censorship. It is an eye-opening experience for many.... We are basically a country built by rebels. When someone tells us 'you can't read that,' we naturally pick it up and read it."

In response to a recent article dismissing Banned Books Week as unnecessary, Peter Hart at the National Coalition Against Censorship argues that censorship is not just a thing of the past:

Graham thinks several hundred cases a year isn't much to get worked up about. But those numbers are a very conservative estimate of the problem. As Chris Finan of the American Booksellers for Free Expression pointed out recently, the American Library Association believes that as many as 80 percent of challenges go unreported. A Freedom of Information Act research project in two states confirmed this; the vast majority of formal challenges are never revealed publicly.

And what about librarians or school officials who seek to steer clear of controversy by avoiding potentially controversial books altogether? There is no doubt that this kind of chilling effect is real. A survey of over 600 librarians released by the School Library Journal in 2009 revealed that 70 percent reported that the possible reaction from parents affected their decisions not to buy a book. About half of librarians reported that they had gone through a formal challenge, and 20 percent of them revealed that the experience affected their book-buying decisions going forward.

So there's strong evidence that there are far more challenges than are reported, and that those challenges affect institutions over the long run. Self-censorship, as the School Library Journal put it, is "a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about."

The Banned Books Week website includes case studies on two of the most frequently challenged books, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis.

You can take the New York Public Library’s banned books quiz at http://www.nypl.org/bannedbooks. And you may be able to find an event near you.

Here’s more information on the impact of censorship challenges from People For the American Way Foundation’s “Book Wars” report:

While individual challenges don’t always succeed in removing a book from a school curriculum or forcing a textbook publisher to alter its content, they can have far-reaching effects.  Attacks on ethnic studies curricula or challenges to books that deal frankly with the lives and histories of marginalized communities can have divisive results beyond their original goals. For example, organizing a protest of a textbook that supposedly “promotes jihad” may not accomplish its stated goal, but might still succeed in stoking fear and resentment against Muslim Americans in that community.

Attacks on multicultural curricula in schools – like Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes – are joined by continuing efforts to ban books that acknowledge gay and lesbian families, teach about world religions, or deal frankly with the history of race in America. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, People For the American Way Foundation tracked challenges to books and curricula that included frank discussions of sexuality, race, and the less palatable truths of American history. In the 2000s, challenges focused also on books accused of promoting the “occult” or “undermining” Christianity, leading the Harry Potter series to top the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books of the decade.

One common theme among many challenged books is their frank portrayals of the experiences of marginalized people. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye are unflinching explorations of being a Black woman in America. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian chronicles a Native American teenager’s experiences living in an impoverished reservation, while going to school in a wealthy nearby town. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man explores African-American identity in the mid-20th century. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, is a landmark piece of Chicano literature. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale offers a dystopian tale about the oppression of women. Marjane Satrapi’s renowned graphic novel Persepolis, is about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

And here are some things you can do to fight censorship in your community:

1.       Attend school board meetings. School boards and other school decision-makers need to hear from parents, students, and community members who oppose censorship. Attend school board meetings, and stay in touch with board members and principals — even when there are no censorship challenges — to let them know that you care about fair, accurate, and inclusive schools.

2.       Stay informed. If a parent or activist group challenges a book in your community's school or district, read the book and learn about its author and its history. Then share what you've found with fellow community members and the local media. A strong, well-informed argument is always an effective weapon against misinformation and prejudice.

3.       Make some noise. Start a petition among students and parents in your school or district in support of a challenged book or curriculum, and tell the local media about it. You could also consider holding a protest in favor of the challenged material. In most cases, activists challenging books represent a small fraction of a community; it sends a powerful message when the rest of the community speaks up for its values

4.       Look for outside voices. While the most effective arguments against censorship are made by local students and parents, in some cases it can be helpful to bring in outside experts. If the author of a challenged book is living, consider inviting him or her to join a discussion in your community or to send a statement to school leaders. Free speech advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, and People For the American Way Foundation can also provide resources and advice on how to fight for free speech in schools.

5.       Run for office. If you don't like the way your elected officials handle censorship challenges, consider becoming an elected official yourself! Run for school board or volunteer to serve on a school committee that handles challenges against books.


PFAW Foundation

Arizona School Board Votes To Remove Pages Of Biology Textbook That Aren't Anti-Abortion Enough

In response to a complaint from the Religious Right group Alliance Defending Freedom, a school board in Arizona has voted to remove pages of an honors high school biology book that ADF contends don’t show “an affirmative preference to childbirth and adoption as options to abortion” in describing various forms of contraception.

ADF based its complaint to the Gilbert, Arizona, school board on a 2012 state law that bans schools from providing instruction “that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.” Although the school board’s lawyers and the state department of education both argued that the pages in question — one of which you can view here — didn’t violate the law, conservatives on the board went ahead with the page removal.

The textbook states that “Complete abstinence (avoiding intercourse) is the only totally effective method of birth control,” before launching into a straight-forward explanation of the workings of several methods of birth control, including emergency contraception.

One board member told Phoenix's 12 News that “by redacting, we are not censoring”:

Board member Julie Smith said the school district was breaking state law by using the book " Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections ."

The 2-year-old state law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, bars school districts and charter schools from making presentations or providing instructional materials to pupils "that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion."

Smith said she raised questions about the text in January after a comment from a constituent. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal organization that recently defended Arizona's ban on same-sex marriage, raised the issue in a letter to Gilbert Superintendent Christina Kishimoto in August.

The focus is two pages in the book, titled "Contraception can prevent unwanted pregnancy."

The text says, "Complete abstinence (avoiding intercourse) is the only totally effective method of birth control." It also describes how the "morning after pill" works as a contraception method.

Board member Lily Tram said the board's decision to remove pages from the book, which has been used by the district since 2006, amounted to censorship.

Smith disagreed. "By redacting, we are not censoring," she said. "This school district does offer sexual education classes. If we were censoring we would not offer anything on this topic whatsoever."

Board President Stacy Burk said some parents had said they were ready to help remove or redact the pages in the textbook.

AFA Wants Libraries To Dump 'Sexually Perverse' Gay Children's Book

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association was, unsurprisingly, upset to learn that some public libraries have been stocking “The Princes and the Treasure,” a children’s book that, in the words of its author Jeffrey Miles, "tells the story of two handsome princes who go on a quest to save a princess, but fall in love with each other, get married, and live happily ever after."

Fischer tells the Christian Post that “this book is a particularly pernicious form of sexually perverse propaganda” that “no responsible library should ever include” in its collection.

He adds that parents have the right not just to prevent their own kids from reading the book but to keep it from other children who might talk to their kids about it: "Christian parents don't want to be concerned only about their own children, they want to keep this kind of warped literature out of the hands of other children as well.”

Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, a nonprofit Christian organization that supports traditional marriage, told CP on Thursday that "because of the power fairy tales, this book is a particularly pernicious form of sexually perverse propaganda."

"The stories and the images that children store up in their minds from fairy tales have a very powerful imprinting effect on their tender young souls," Fischer said. "And the bottom line is that no responsible library should ever include a book like this on its shelves, and no responsible school should ever use this book as a part of its curriculum."

He continued, "The reality is that no library can stock every book that's ever been published. So libraries choose all the time not to stock certain books. There's nothing wrong with parents asking the library not to stock a book of this nature."

Fischer noted that Christian parents aren't only concerned about what their children are reading, but they're also concerned about the literature that's influencing other children in their communities.

"Christian parents don't want to be concerned only about their own children, they want to keep this kind of warped literature out of the hands of other children as well," he asserted. "And if parents want this book for their children, there's nothing to stop them from going to Amazon and buying it with their own money. But taxpayer dollars should not be spent on tripe like this."

We discussed similar book censorship efforts in our recent report, “Book Wars.”

Via Book Patrol.

Book Wars: The Right’s Fight to Redefine America

For decades, the Religious Right in the United States has used public school students as pawns in its "culture wars," fighting to impose a political agenda on textbooks and curricula in school districts across the country. This campaign has included fights over sex education, school-led prayer, publicly funded vouchers for religious institutions, and much more. In this report, we examine recent developments in one aspect of this campaign: the fight to shape what children learn by controlling their access to books in school libraries and curricula, and the content of their textbo

North Carolina School Board Votes to Keep ‘The House of the Spirits’ in Curriculum

Last October, a parent at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina asked the local school board to remove Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned The House of the Spirits from the curriculum. After making its way through a multi-step county review process, last week the school board voted 3-2 to uphold the teaching of the book.

The fight to keep the book in the curriculum was backed by many supporters – including the author herself. In a letter to the Watauga County Board of Education, Isabel Allende wrote,

Banning books is a common practice in police states, Like Cuba or North Korea…but I did not expect it in our democracy.

PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan also spoke out against censorship to the school board. In his letter, Keegan wrote:

We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Watauga County to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. While individual parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students in the county.

The House of the Spirits is not the first book PFAW Foundation has fought to protect. In addition to speaking out about Allende’s novel, in the past year PFAW Foundation has advocated against censorship attempts aimed at Invisible Man, Neverwhere, and The Bluest Eye.

PFAW Foundation

NC Committee Upholds Teaching of Challenged Allende Novel

After Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned novel The House of the Spirits was challenged by a parent this October, PFAW Foundation wrote to members of the Watauga County, North Carolina Board of Education, urging them not to remove the book from the county’s high school curriculum. Now, following a sustained outcry at both the local and national level – including from Allende herself – a county appeal committee has unanimously voted to uphold the teaching of the book.
PFAW Foundation

Religious Right Activists Protest Play Over LGBT Themes

Anti-LGBT activists in Dallas and Oklahoma City are trying to shut down performances Paul Rudnick’s “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” a play that includes gay characters and takes a humorous look at Bible stories.

America Needs Fatima, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, is organizing a “public Rosary of Reparation against the blasphemous play” in Dallas this weekend.

Join our public Rosary of Reparation against the blasphemous play 'The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told' scheduled to show as “holiday fare” at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas, TX, on December 8...

…because “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” refers to Our Lady as a lesbian!

This is blasphemy.

I ask -- will God bless those who allow His Holy Mother to be dragged into the dirt of lesbian insults? Will He allow the Immaculate Conception to be turned into a homosexual party game?

A group of Oklahoma City pastors are going one step further and asking for a performance of the play in their area to be cancelled. The group, led by Paul Blair and Steve Kern , whose wife State Rep. Sally Kern claimed that homosexuality is “more dangerous” than terrorism, sent a letter [PDF] to state officials demanding that they stop the performance because “it is quite possible that this production meets the definition of obscenity and might be in violation of Federal and State obscenity laws.”

The pastors said that the government should “cease funding the Arts Council” until the play — which is produced by a nonprofit theater company — is pulled. The theater company producing the show says it already lost a $5,000 state arts council grant after Religious Right activists started complaining about the play.

A First Amendment law professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law told The Oklahoman that he
didn't see enough data in the ministers' letter to conclude that an obscenity prosecution was possible or plausible.”

Isabel Allende Fights Against Banning of Her Own Book

When the teaching of Isabel Allende’s internationally renowned novel The House of the Spirits was challenged in a North Carolina school district last month, advocates from all corners spoke out in its defense, including PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. Now, Isabel Allende herself has joined the conversation.

Yesterday the School Library Journal reported that Allende has mailed a letter, along with copies of her book, to the Watauga County school board, superintendent, and the principal of Watauga High School.

After acknowledging that being in the position of defending her own book is “unusual and awkward,” Allende points out in her letter that The House of the Spirits is “considered a classic of Latin American literature and it is taught in high schools, colleges, and universities in all Western countries, including the USA for more than two decades.” She expresses concern about the practice of book censorship in general:

Banning of books is a common practice in police states, like Cuba or North Korea, and by religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, but I did not expect it in our democracy.

Allende’s letter comes as the book undergoes a multi-step review process in the county. Last month an advisory committee comprised of teachers, students, and parents voted unanimously not to remove the book from the curriculum, but that decision has been appealed.

PFAW Foundation

NM School District Restores ‘Neverwhere’ to Curriculum Following PFAW Foundation Advocacy

Last month, PFAW Foundation sent a letter to a school district review committee in Alamogordo, New Mexico urging them to reject attempts to remove Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from the English curriculum. Yesterday a local television station, KRQE News 13, reported that the book will indeed be put back into the Alamogordo High School curriculum. A district spokesperson told the School Library Journal that in the review process the book was found to be “educationally suitable, balanced, and age-appropriate for high school students.”

The School Library Journal’s Karyn Peterson provides the backstory:

Use of the novel, which had been a part of the AHS English department’s curriculum for nearly 10 years, was suspended from classrooms in early October after a mother complained to the school board about what she characterized as the book’s “sexual innuendos” and “harsh” language—occurring on a single page of the 400-page novel.  The district then created a review committee and opened a public comment period...

PFAW Foundation was one of the groups that weighed in, encouraging the review committee to uphold the right of all students to “to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship.”

The full text of our letter is below.

October 25, 2013

Dear Members of the Review Committee,

We urge you to reject attempts to remove Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from the English curriculum.  We understand that the novel was temporarily removed from the curriculum following the complaint of a parent and will be reviewed by this committee.

Neil Gaiman, whose awards include the Newbery Medal for outstanding children’s literature, is an acclaimed author whose work has been taught in the district for many years. We recognize that school leaders often face difficult decisions that require balancing the concerns of parents with the educational development of students.  However, according to English teacher Pam Thorp’s recent letter in the Alamogordo News, the child of the parent bringing the complaint was offered alternative reading material. While parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students.

Many works of literature tackle mature or challenging topics. Attempting to shield high school students from challenging works robs them of the opportunity to learn from and engage with literature, and sets a dangerous precedent.

We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Alamogordo public schools to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. For over 30 years we have worked with school districts to protect students’ right to learn, and are happy to serve as a resource for you in this and any future challenges to school curricula.

Best wishes,

Michael Keegan
President, People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW Foundation

After Outcry From PFAW Foundation and Others, NC School Board Rescinds Ban on ‘Invisible Man’

The North Carolina school board that voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s landmark novel Invisible Man from school libraries last week has now voted to reinstate the book, reports Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.

Last week after hearing about the ban, PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to Randolph County school board members urging them to reverse their decision.  Area media outlets documented the local, national, and even international response.

The board listened to the outcry.  The Courier-Tribune reports that yesterday evening, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 to reinstate the book to school libraries in the county.  At the meeting, some board members reflected on their changing perspectives about censorship and constitutional liberties:

Lambeth said since the last meeting he had listened to other viewpoints and still was concerned about the book’s content and protection of students, but realized that the decision was about a child’s First Amendment rights and educational values, not his personal perspective.

Board member Tracy Boyles said he had wondered as he drove home from the last meeting whether he had made the right decision….He also reflected on his son being in the Air Force and ‘in war twice.…He was fighting for these rights. I’m casting a vote to take them away. Is it right of me? No.’

Fighting censorship has long been a priority of People For the American Way Foundation.  Freedom of expression – whether in schools, museums, or any public place – is a fundamental right of Americans that PFAW Foundation will continue its work to protect.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Urges North Carolina School Board to Reverse Decision Banning ‘Invisible Man’

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to members of the Randolph County, North Carolina, Board of Education today urging them to reverse their decision banning Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries.  Following a complaint from a parent, the board voted 5-2 on Monday to remove all copies of the acclaimed American literary work from school libraries in the county, Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune reported.

The Courier-Tribune is now reporting that the board may indeed reconsider the ban, noting that they plan to hold a special meeting about the book on Wednesday, September 25.

The full text of the letter is below:

Randolph County Board of Education
c/o Dr. Stephen Gainey, Superintendent
McDowell Governmental Center
2222-C  S. Fayetteville St
Asheboro, NC 27205

September 20, 2013

Dear Members of Randolph County Board of Education:

On behalf of our 816,840 members and activists, we urge you to reverse your decision to remove all copies of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from Randolph County school libraries, which was reported by Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.

Since its 1952 publication, Invisible Man has been targeted multiple times for censorship attempts.  To be sure, it is a piece of literature that explores painful themes – one that, as journalist Roger Rosenblatt put it, “captured the grim realities of racial discrimination as no book had.” Yet despite the opinion of one board member that the novel lacks “any literary value,” Invisible Man is among the most acclaimed American novels of the past century.  It won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction and was deemed by TIME magazine one of the top 100 English-language novels since 1923. 

As an organization that works with elected officials, we recognize that school board members often face difficult decisions that require balancing the concerns of parents with the educational development of students.  But denying students access to landmark novels such as Invisible Man because of a parent’s complaint harms students’ ability to learn from and engage with the rich body of literature our country has produced.  In addition, multiple committees in your district recommended against its removal. 

Our nation’s education system is designed to teach students critical thinking skills – to expose them to new, and sometimes challenging, ideas.  This classic literary work must not be banned from schools.  We urge you to reconsider this decision, and to make this book available once again to students in your school district.


Michael Keegan
President, People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW Foundation

AFA Wants Toni Morrison's 'Pornography' Censored From Common Core

Last month, PFAW Foundation reported on a school board in Colorado that was considering removing Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from its high school curriculum after parents objected to the book’s frank depiction of racism and sexual violence in the Depression-era Midwest.

In a board meeting last week, the school board decided to continue allowing English teachers to teach the book but to require that students submit a parental permission slip before reading it.

Now, the book’s appearance in the Common Core curriculum’s list of possible high school English texts has drawn the wrath of One Million Moms, an arm of the American Family Association, which is issuing an “ultimatum” for the book to be removed from Common Core's materials.

In an interview with the Christian Post this week, One Million Moms director Monica Cole said Morrison’s work is “no different than pornography” and found the need to condemn a pedophile character’s “use of the Lord's name to justify his actions,” claiming that this character is actually "an extremely sneaky way to involve violence in the school system."

"This book is no different than pornography," Monica Cole, director of One Million Moms, an online advocacy arm of the American Family Association, told The Christian Post in a Monday interview. She then linked pornography to human trafficking, rape, sexual violence, and even sexual slavery.

The author reportedly said "she wanted the reader to feel as though they are a 'co-conspirator' with the rapist," so "she took pains to make sure she never portrayed the actions as wrong in order to show how everyone has their own problems." The book narrates cases of pedophilia, rape, and incest which the author described as "friendly," "innocent," and "tender."

Cole said she was "speechless," that this book would be on the recommended reading list, and she set an ultimatum. "The material that is sexually graphic, we don't agree with it and it needs to be pulled from the curriculum immediately," she stated firmly.

Cole also condemned the pedophile's use of the Lord's name to justify his actions – "I work only through the Lord. He sometimes uses me to help people," the character claims. The director of One Million Moms called this "an extremely sneaky way to involve violence in the school system."

The director asked why books like this one, as opposed to the classics, are recommended to children. She mentioned "millions of books to recommend" as opposed to this one.

Cole stressed that neither One Million Moms nor the American Family Association has yet taken a stand against Common Core in general, but when it comes to The Bluest Eye, she proved more definitive. "Nothing good will come of this," she proclaimed.

The Christian Post also asked Family Research Council senior fellow Peter Sprigg about the book. Sprigg agreed that The Bluest Eye should be censored from Common Core’s recommended reading list and fretted about what Common Core means for "community moral standards," but betrayed a slightly more nuanced understanding of the purpose of fiction:

Cases like this, Sprigg explained, inflame the debate over national education standards. While he emphasized that the Family Research Council has not yet taken a stand on the issue, he defended as legitimate the fear that Common Core "will not leave room for community standards to be applied – especially moral community standards."

While Cole argued that Morrison, the book's author, likely used the book to argue for moral relativism, Sprigg gave her the benefit of the doubt. He argued that Morrison might have just wanted the reader to feel empathy for a wrongdoer – not to condone actions like rape and pedophilia.

Morrison’s book has also come under criticism from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, which warned, “The book — a past selection of Oprah’s Book Club — has graphic sex scenes and descriptions that are likely to make you blush.”

PFAWF: More Attention on Colorado Censorship Campaign

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation joined a campaign to fight book censorship in a Colorado school district. The censorship battle began when a group of parents launched a petition to keep Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the Legacy High School curriculum. Legacy High student Bailey Cross started a counter-petition emphasizing the dangerous precedent that this censorship would set and encouraging the school district to keep the book on the approved reading list.

PFAW Foundation sent a letter to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education showing support for the student’s campaign and urging the district to reject the attempts at censorship.

The efforts of the Foundation were highlighted by the Denver Post yesterday. Staff writer Yesenia Robles wrote that the parents involved claim the book is “developmentally inappropriate” and should be kept out of the classroom.

People For the American Way Foundation disagrees. Robles reports,

"We do understand this book has themes and content that are really challenging, but that's why it should be taught," foundation spokesman Drew Courtney said. "An important role of classrooms is to help students and young adults deal with that, to have those conversations in an intelligent way in the classrooms. Offering an alternative assignment is appropriate, but banning a prize-winning novel isn't prudence. It's censorship."

See the full Denver Post article here.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Joins Fight Against Book Censorship in Colorado School District

“If one book is banned from being taught in a classroom setting, then it opens the door for all books – and ideas – to be banned as well.”

These are the closing words to a petition launched by high school student Bailey Cross in response to an attempt to eliminate Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from the high school curriculum in her Colorado school district.  The school board will have to decide the fate of the book in the district’s classrooms, which a local news source has reported could happen as early as August

In their petition, the students point out that parents or students who object to the reading assignment are already offered an alternative novel.  In addition, teachers are not forced to teach the book.  The outright elimination of this important piece of literature from the classroom would set a troubling precedent.

Today People For the American Way Foundation sent a letter on behalf of our 718,000 members to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education urging them to reject the attempts at censorship.  The letter notes,

“Since it was first published in 1970, The Bluest Eye has been the target of censorship attempts because of its frank portrayal of racism and sexual assault. But shielding high school students from these subjects and from Morrison’s discussion of them does nothing to eliminate them from the world. Instead, Morrison’s nuanced discussions of difficult issues serve to help readers understand, discuss, and confront those issues…

“Our nation’s schools are meant to be places that encourage the free exchange of ideas.”

Let’s make sure we keep them that way.

PFAW Foundation

FRC Promotes Pro-Censorship Group, Slams American Library Association’s Library Privacy Work

In his Washington Update radio address today, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins slams the American Library Association for a curriculum that educates students about their library privacy rights. Perkins quotes the concerns of Parents Against Bad Books in Schools, a group that encourages parents to challenge “sensitive, controversial and inappropriate material” in school libraries, including such books as Beloved, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

“School libraries,” Perkins says, “are one place where liberalism has a long shelf life”:

In the library, what kids are really checking out is a new ideology. Hello, I'm Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. School libraries are one place where liberalism has a long shelf life. For years, the American Library Association's been funneling inappropriate material to kids. And stopping them just got a whole lot harder. The Left wing's favorite billionaire, George Soros, is giving the ALA a half-million dollars a year to develop a "privacy curriculum" that teaches kids how to "bust through censor walls," "encrypt their communication," and "override filters." Even worse, librarians are told "to inform students that their book circulation data will never be shared with anyone, including their parents." Groups like Parents Against Bad Books in Schools are fighting back, but they need your help. "If enough parents become aware of how many objectionable books there are in [circulation] and work together in constantly challenging them, things can improve considerably," said a spokesman. Otherwise, what libraries will be lending isn't books--but a helping hand to the Left.

For what it’s worth, here are the American Library Association’s guidelines on privacy in school libraries:

Students as Library Users: Students who use school libraries need to learn about the concepts of privacy and confidentiality. They may not know the dangers of sharing personally identifiable information with others. School library media specialists may face the situation of an adult asking for information pertaining to students' library use. These situations must be handled in accordance with all school and library policies. In an ideal situation, that information would not be released. Teachers should not be able to "check" on students to see if they have borrowed assigned readings or used specific resources. School library media specialists are best served when they assist teachers in developing classroom procedures and policies that preserve user privacy and meet educational goals.

CNSNews Discovers More Yuletide Gays at the Smithsonian

CNSNews’ Penny Starr caused an uproar in 2010 when she published a story titled, “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts.” Starr’s story, a breathless review of a groundbreaking National Portrait Gallery exhibit on the gay and lesbian experience in American art, started a textbook case of the right-wing controversy machine, ultimately resulting in the Smithsonian’s removal of a work from the exhibit.

Apparently encouraged by last Christmas’s triumph, Starr is at it again. Her new target: a National Portrait Gallery exhibit on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. That the Smithsonian would twice in a row acknowledge the existence of gay people during the winter months is too much for Starr:

For the second year in a row, the federally funded National Portrait Gallery (NPG), a part of the Smithsonian Institution, held an exposition during the Christmas season focused on the homosexual lifestyle.

“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” an exhibition appearing at the NPG from Oct. 14, 2011 through Jan. 22, 2012, focuses on lesbian activist and writer Gertrude Stein.

The exhibit, set up in five rooms at the taxpayer-funded museum, highlights Stein’s lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas and Stein’s “second family” of homosexual men, some of whom collaborated with Stein on various projects.

On the wall at the entrance to the exhibit, Stein is described as “one of America’s most famous writers.” It gives brief descriptions of each of the five stories, including “Domestic Stein,” which “looks at the lesbian partnership of Stein and Alice B. Toklas, focusing on their distinctive dress, home décor, hospitality, food and pets.” The “Art of Friendship,” the introduction says, “explores Stein's relationships and collaborations after World War I with the neoromantics, a circle of international artists who were young, male, and gay.”

Religious Right Abandons Brooklyn Museum Protests – Anti-Da Vinci Code Group and Pro-Censorship Artist Carry on the Fight

Last year, when the Smithsonian hosted “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” a groundbreaking exhibit exploring gay and lesbian themes in American art, the Religious Right unified in protest. Inspired by a CNSNews story titled “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts,” and egged on by the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, the campaign against the exhibit quickly gained the support of soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Within a day they succeeded in pressuring the Smithsonian to remove the most controversial work from the exhibit, David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly.

Last week, the exhibit opened at the Brooklyn Museum, famously the site of the Giuliani-fueled controversy over the 1999 “Sensation” show. Within days, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn sent a letter to the museum protesting the exhibit, and a small coalition of GOP elected officials followed up with a letter accusing the museum of “Christian-bashing.” New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser also weighed in, calling the Wojnarwicz work “a revolting piece of slime.”

However, the museum hasn’t budged in its support for the show, and the Right’s efforts to censor the work have mostly fizzled. Donohue himself has decided it’s not worth expending too much effort –instead simply issuing a statement reiterating his disgust with the exhibit and accusing Wojnarowicz of bringing about his own death from AIDS.

Left to fill the vacuum so far have been a far-right Catholic group inspired by a Brazilian fascist movement and an artist who was previously known for painting a heroic George W. Bush on horseback holding Osama bin Laden’s severed head.

On Sunday,America Needs Fatima, a campaign of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), held a protest in front of the museum. TFP is a spin-off of a Brazilian movement that has been called “neo-fascist.” TFP’s foundational text is a treatise by founder Plinio Correa de Oliveira, which argues that the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Communism have in their turn undone a natural order that must be restored. While the main American branch of TFP mostly focuses on anti-gay propaganda [pdf], America Needs Fatima is dedicated to organizing “anti-blasphemy” campaigns against targets like The Da Vinci Code, editorial cartoons and Madonna’s planned performance at the 2012 Super Bowl.

The other notable protest against the Brooklyn Museum has been that of Staten Island artist Scott LoBaido, who was thrown out of the museum after showing up with a painting of the museum’s director sitting on a toilet filled with green muck. LoBaido has been protesting art that he sees as blasphemous since at least 1999, when he was arrested for throwing horse manure at the Brooklyn Museum to protest the “Sensation” exhibit. His own work is not always negative, though. Along with his year-long project painting flags on rooftops across America, LoBaido has created fawning, heroic portraits of Ronald Reagan and of George W. Bush brandishing the head of Osama bin Laden.


The Smithsonian’s Censorship Forum....Over Four Months Too Late

A Smithsonian panel reveals that Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough did a huge disservice to the institution he leads and to free expression in the United States by removing a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery after a manufactured right-wing uproar.

As Smithsonian Continues to Duck Controversy, PFAW Report Draws Lessons On How Not to Respond to Political Bullies

A new report from People For the American Way draws lessons on ways institutions can respond to right-wing-generated controversies, by evaluating the chain of events that led to the Smithsonian’s removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery.

How Not to Respond to Political Bullies: Lessons from the Smithsonian’s Response to the Manufactured Right-Wing Controversy Over Hide/Seek

A new report from People For the American Way draws lessons on ways institutions can respond to right-wing-generated controversies, by evaluating the chain of events that led to the Smithsonian’s removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery.
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