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Silencing Voices: Ignoring the First Amendment

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The First Amendment of the United States’ Bill of Rights declares ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ (Art. 1) The freedom of speech assured by the US Constitution gives each citizen the freedom to vocalize and spread personal ideas as long as those ideas do not spread to slander or libel; and as the books most commonly banned by institutions are fiction, books fall under neither of those categories. In fact, in the 1990’s, more than 90% of the top 100 banned books were fiction, meaning that the works being banned were almost all the ideas of the author. (ALA 1) In order to respect the freedom of speech as enacted by the United States’ Constitution, the US must not allow any public institutions to ban books, or the literary embodiment of the author’s ideas.

People in favor of banning books raise a valid point, in that although the freedom of speech has been confirmed by the Supreme Court as a protected right, people do not have the right to shout “fire” in a movie theater. In other words, although it is the right of people to speak their mind, if there are dangers associated with an action or idea, then the freedom of speech
does not protect that action. Although this is a valid point to bring up, there is a difference between books that are clear instruction manuals for hurting individuals, such as The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and books that may simply provide opposing viewpoints than a person’s own. Even books that harbor intolerance have no more right to be silenced than members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group infamous for picketing the funerals of dead soldiers and gay rights activists. The group’s ideology and message may be in bad taste, but they are not placing any person into the path of direct harm. Such as in the case of books, where a book such as a 120 Days of Sodom might be gruesome, even detailing illicit activities in full, the book is only a story and does not actually hurt anyone, and thus is in the full discretion of the reader to decide what books to read and take to heart, and not the job of the government or any public institution to ban that book from circulation. During the Supreme Court Pica case, ‘Justice William Brennan reasoned that the First Amendment right to express ideas must be supported by an implied right to receive information and ideas.’(firstamendmentcenter.com) The freedom of speech gives not only the right to have ideas, but to listen and consider ideas. As the American Literary Association has noted, ‘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.’ As the First Amendment also states, the United States of America is not a country with an official religion, and the fact that many books are banned seemingly based on the fact that they contain referenced to other viewpoints than the mainstream Christian one only gives more credence to the fact that it is left to the individuals discretion what books they read, for each individual will have their own viewpoints and has the right to speak, hear, write, or read
that viewpoint or other viewpoints to grow as a person. The crime of trying to prohibit readers from having ready access to different opinions becomes an altogether more heinous crime when it is considered that many book banning institutions are the libraries of high schools, at a time when many teenagers are just beginning to explore their opinions on the world around them, and to embrace new ideas. Banning books leads to the stifling ideas that might have shaped the future of those high school readers that might have picked them up. As stated by Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, “Free access to information is a core American value that should be protected. Not every book is right for each reader, but an individual’s interpretation of a book should not take away my right to select reading materials for my family or myself” (firstamendmentcenter.com).

Furthermore, the censorship of books is a problem not only because it denies ideas to the reader, but also because many of the books banned are excluded from public institutions primarily because of, as mentioned above, ideas that one group of people finds offensive. Princeton researchers Protap Mukherjee and Lopamudra Ray Saraswati affirm that America is now the most ethnically and racially diverse nation in the world, and other studies confirm that America is also largely religiously diverse. Basing the standards on what it takes to ban a book from any person using that public institution on the judgment of parents that complain about what they personally do not allow their child to read is a reprehensible act, and although it is within the right of a parent to stop their child from reading a text they deem inappropriate while that member of the family is still legally a child, denying the other children in a classroom or school the right to be exposed to works that they or their family have no problem with is a repressive act that furthers no child’s education. ‘The [Supreme] Court recognized that the First
Amendment rights of students are “directly and sharply implicated” when a book is removed from a school library.’ (firstamendmentcentet.com) It is not only the opinion of a few that in a country filled with so many opinionated people coming from different sides of debates such as this, but the official decree of the Supreme Court that it is not within the public’s interest for public institutions to block certain texts from the public. And in this current information revolution, when word leaks that a certain book has been blocked, people often hear about the story and then become even more determined to read the work previously blocked from them, and the world wide web now provides quick access to almost all texts available in any quantity, rendering the bolstered reading of the text inevitable. Not only is it not in the common interest or protected by law for any group of people in this country to decide to block a book based on their standard system of belief; but with the advancements in technology from a century ago when the burning of a certain text was all that was necessitated to destroy the idea or story forever, the banning of books now almost assures a wider audience interested in the book being banned.

Most importunately, the freedom of speech not only protects the right of the reader to have access to ideas in different mediums for their interpretation, the First Amendment protects the right of the author to “speak” through any medium. Each person is entitled to their opinion and ideas, and in fact ideas are given such merit that the United States and the United Nations have several copyright and patent laws, government bodies, and international organizations around to protect, among others, the rights of the authors to protect and benefit from their work if they so choose. "Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage." (Churchill, highlands.edu) Every person has their own
opinions and stories to impart upon the world, and authors write their ideas and stories down so that they may continue to live on for posterity. To silence their stories just because one group of people believes that their words are offensive is the sort of nonsense that is not tolerated in America. In the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."(highlands.edu) In a nation where both Glenn Beck, a conservative conspiracy theorist with a radio show and several books, and Michael Moore, a liberal documentarian known for his incredibly biased films, can both exist with their differing ideologies and write books available to the general public if they so choose, author’s works must not be censored just to please a few offended citizens. Even more, often authors do write outrageous stories to gain literary recognition for an idea, or try to impress a warning or side of a story to the public. These extents of an author’s person written down are often valuable parts of the author’s life, since he/she slaved over their work, and to censor their ideas is equivalent to not allowing a person to talk at an event because their opinion is different than someone else’s. The refusal to allow a person the right to exercise their freedom of speech in person is recognized as wrong in almost all capacities, so why would it then become acceptable to stop an author from speaking through their words on paper?

In conclusion, the right of a public institution to ban a book from the general populace is an outrage that must not be suffered. Reader’s and author’s alike gain nothing from the banning of books, which both enable the slaved over ideas and stories of the author to live on while giving future generations the ability to expand upon their horizon of knowledge. The belief of the
few does not have the right to impeach upon the knowledge of the many, and this is a commonly held belief in the United States Courtroom as well as among the people. As author Kurt Vonnegut said, “All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States – and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!” (highlands.edu)
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bombthrower said...
Sept. 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm
why the anarchist cookbook, i love and guide to the black bloc its spirtual sequal. 
 
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