July 22, 2017

Banning Books, Silencing Voices

Photo courtesy of the Freedom to Read Foundation

by Taylor Godfrey

Asst. Opinion Editor

Last week I went to the library to check out a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in anticipation of the upcoming Hulu series that is premiering this month. As I pulled the book off the shelf, I noticed a big red sticker splashed across the cover that said “Caution! Banned Book,” as well as a smaller one explaining where and why the book was banned.

While these stickers were part of a celebration of Banned Books Week—a week every September that raises awareness of censorship in the United States—and not an attempt by Phillips Memorial Library to dictate what I read, it still concerned me. Even today, censorship remains an important issue and one which is dangerous to all of the values the United States is supposed to espouse and respect.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), over 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982 when Banned Books Week was started to raise awareness of the issue. A book being challenged means someone wanted it removed from a school’s curriculum or a library, while a book being banned means it was removed.

While many of the reasons people cite for banning books are to protect others, especially children, from sensitive topics, restricting the flow of open information and discussion really causes more harm than good.

This is also an issue for all sides of the political spectrum. On the ALA list of top ten books banned in 2015, there were books about transgender kids, such as Jazz Jennings’ autobiography I Am Jazz, that were censored for being “anti-family,” but The Holy Bible also found  a spot on the list for its “religious viewpoints.” All sides seem afraid to confront ideas and values different from their own.

And many books that are widely read and seemingly apolitical, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, have been challenged many times—in this case for centering on themes of witchcraft.

In today’s political climate, with the president often denouncing many media outlets for supposedly reporting false news, it seems that widespread censorship could be only steps away. One of the most important tenets of the Constitution is the right to freedom of speech, but no one’s speech is really free if ideas and books can just easily be suppressed, banned, and removed from the conversation.

While a few hundred books being removed from libraries scattered across the country might not seem like a big deal, this is only a small part of a larger problem. If people only ever read and interact with viewpoints similar to their own, it will only cause them to dig their heels in further and further on their own side and any discussion about important issues in our country will stagnate.

This is especially important for children, as many of the challenged books are children’s or young adult books. But if children are only ever exposed to ideas that reflect the ones their parents hold, how can they form their own opinions and be their own people?

If you have ever read a particularly moving book, you know the power of reading. It is a power that is incompatible with hatred, closed-mindedness, and bigotry. It is a power that is needed in today’s world that seems to be increasingly filled with these things. Reading other people’s thoughts and ideas brings you out of yourself and can show you a wider world. And it is important that it stays that wide and not constricted by fear or hatred.

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