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By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment scholar

Most people agree that the process of education involves confronting new ideas and challenges. However, because books often present controversial ideas or challenge the status quo, they are frequent targets of censorship. Even classics such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are not immune from the specter of censorship. (Also see Banned books section.)

School officials seeking to rid school libraries of controversial titles and shield children from certain information must tread carefully, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court has found that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information and ideas.

In 1982, the high court determined in Board of Education v. Pico that "the First Amendment rights of students may be directly and sharply implicated by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library."

The high court determined that school officials could not remove books from the library because they disagreed with the ideas in the books. However, the court determined that officials could remove the books if they were “pervasively vulgar” or educationally unsuitable.

The high court specifically limited its ruling to the removal of a book already on the shelf and said the question of acquiring certain books raised a different question under the Constitution. In addition, the Court’s ruling does not apply to the issue of whether certain books can be used in the curriculum. Most courts have determined that school officials have a broad degree of control over the curriculum.

Related

Challenges to library books rise in 2004

Attempts to have works removed from shelves increase by more than 20% over previous year, according to American Library Association study. 09.02.05

Rival group counters effort to remove school library books
Fayetteville, Ark., parents on opposite sides of debate over what should be allowed on library shelves. 09.07.05

Choosing what Johnny can read
School systems often agonize over which controversial books are acceptable to assign to students — and when to fight for them when objections arise. 10.30.05

Idaho school board rejects minister's request to ban book
The Chocolate War had been pulled temporarily from English curriculum because of complaints of negative portrayal of Christians. 05.11.06

Celebrating the right to read
By Melanie Bengtson ALA kicks off its 25th Annual Banned Books Week, honoring works that have been challenged, questioned, burned or banned. 09.25.06

Number of books facing challenge drops to all-time low
ALA official says two reasons may be that librarians are better prepared to defend books, would-be censors are focusing efforts online. 09.29.06

Ga. mom asks state to bar Harry Potter from school libraries
Laura Mallory, who claims books seek to indoctrinate children as Wiccans, appeals local school board's decision to state officials. 10.05.06

Administrator pulls novel from literature class
Iowa superintendent hasn't read all of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? but says its sexual content is out-of-bounds for high school students. 11.25.06

Harry Potter won't vanish from Ga. county's school libraries
Mother who has waged yearlong fight to ban popular series from her children's suburban Atlanta school district is considering appealing state Board of Education's decision. 12.14.06

Ga. court rebuffs mom's bid to ban Harry Potter books
Laura Mallory says she may take fight to federal court after state judge backs district's decision to keep popular series in school libraries. 05.30.07

'Gay' penguins title tops list of challenged books
During 26th annual Banned Books Week, American Library Association, others to highlight works threatened with removal. 09.28.07

Texas teacher could face criminal charges over challenged book
Kaleb Tierce is being investigated for allegedly distributing harmful material to minor after ninth-grader reads novel about murderer who has sex with victims' bodies. 10.23.07

Book challenge sparks debate in W.Va. county
Student group is vowing to sue school board if removal of Beach Music and The Prince of Tides from two high school classes is made permanent and expanded countywide. 11.05.07

Banned and challenged books: a selected timeline


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Last system update: Monday, January 14, 2008 | 16:44:18
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