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.