Book Banning and the First Amendment

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” It is impossible for any author to think of everyone who might pick up their books. It is impossible for any author to worry about every single reaction their book will bring. An author does not write because they are looking to offend someone, they are writing because they have a story to share. The First Amendment protects not only the author from being able to print their thoughts and ideas, but the people who choose to speak out against the ideas and thoughts they do not agree with. However, we must protect our enemy’s rights, for when we do not we risk losing our own rights as well. In this essay I will first discuss the First Amendment and how it protects both authors and protesters. Second I will discuss how censorship affects both authors and protesters. Finally, I will show that we must protect our enemy’s rights because we are at risk of losing our own.

The United States is most famous for the many freedoms and rights that are given to each and every citizen. Many people from all around the world seek to immigrate to America and achieve citizenship because of these very freedoms. These freedoms come from our Constitution, which was written a long time ago by our forefathers who were fearful of living under another oppressive government. The most famous and most important amendment being that of the first amendment. The first Amendment says, “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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This amendment gave us the right to practice any religion, the freedom of unabridged speech and of the press, and the freedom to assemble peacefully to protest against anything that we do not agree with. It is confusing to understand that even though this amendment is widely accepted as some of our most important rights, that it can still be acceptable, even with the government, for any work to be censored in any way. Censorship has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. The first case of censorship on record being that of Socrates in 399 B.C.E who “was sentenced to death after having been found guilty of degrading public morals. Socrates, known for his democratic teachings, argued his own defense, which outlined the importance of freedom of expression” (Symons 1). Just like today, Socrates was challenged because people were afraid of views that went against what they had been taught to believe. The biggest reason that books are banned is because these books challenge people’s views not only intellectually but morally. In the article “Banned Books Week Supports First Amendment Rights” it says, “Harper Lee’s treatise against bigotry, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been challenged for its use of racial slurs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin has gone from being banned for its “anti-slavery propaganda” to being banned for its undesirable racial language.” These books were challenged and/or banned because they went against what people believed to be right at the time. Notice that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had first been banned because it held “anti-slavery” ideas. As the times changed it was later challenged due to “undesirable racial language” because the ideals of the country had changed since it had first been banned. The first Amendment is supposed to protect author’s work from being banned just because it’s views and opinions do not match the majority. The article “Library Censorship Is Not Justified” quotes Supreme Court Justice William Brannan who said in 1989, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Supreme Court Justice William Brannan understands this fact. However, just as the First Amendment protects the authors from having their work banned, it also gives people the right to protest against these works.

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After all the first amendment gives people the write to “peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The first amendment protects anyone who wishes to gather and peacefully protest any book that they find they disagree with. It is censorship that prevents these views and ideas from being expressed. In the article “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship” it defines censorship as “any action that works against the climate of intellectual freedom” (Symons 1). Censorship, loosely defined, is something that affects any form of communication, whether it is written or oral. A form of oral communication is that of peaceful protests that people perform when they are expressing their distaste for any number of books. According to the American Library Association, the top initiator for challenges is that of the parents. Also according to the American Library Association, the top institution that has brought about challenges is that of Schools. However, whether it be a parent or a school, they have the freedom to speak out against anything that they do not agree with so long as it does not impinge on another’s right to express their own opinions. When books are banned by those protesters they are impinging on the authors First Amendment right to express their own opinions and beliefs through their work. In the article “Book Banning Threatens Free Speech” it says, “Permitting restraints on literature sets the stage for attacks on all expression that is artistically or politically controversial or that portrays unpleasant realities of life” (ACLU 3). When one allows one work to be banned it opens doorways for all forms of expression to be attacked, whether that form of e1xpression is written or oral.

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“The First Amendment requires citizens to protect unpopular speech, minority opinion, and the right of a speaker even when they do not agree with the message being conveyed” (Symons 2). The right to express one’s opinions must be protected even if that opinion is not something that we agree with. When we refuse to protect our enemy’s right to express their opinions and views, we are opening the doorway to destroying our own freedoms. The article “Library Censorship Is Not Justified” quotes Thomas Paine as saying, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Thomas Paine is not the only one to express this view either. In the article “Library Censorship Is Not Justified” it also says, “The ALA states that the right of the library censors to voice their opinions is protected ‘only if the rights of persons to express ideas they despise are also protected.” If we are to protect our own freedom of speech then we must protect our enemies for neither will survive if both sides are not protected. Yet protesters do not seem to understand this fact when they were busy trying to take away someone else’s freedoms. “In spite of the First Amendment, the human inclination to prevent human speech has given America a 1long history of censorship, intolerance, and repression” (Symons 2).

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom of speech for authors, as well as those who protest against the authors work. However, when the protesters succeed in banning books they are opening the door for their own freedoms to be taken away. Because of this even protesters must protect their enemy’s, the authors, by withholding their freedom to express their opinions and views through their opinions. Here’s one last thought to think about when it comes to censorship. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.

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Works Cited:

Symons, Ann K., and Charles Harmon. “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship.” Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. Ed. Jorge Reina Schement. Vol. 2. New York. Macmillian USA, 2002. 446-452. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Dec. 2010

“Banned Books Week Supports First Amendment Rights.” Book Banning. Ed. Ronnie D. Lankford. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.

“Library Censorship Is Not Justified.” Censorship. Ed. Bradley Steffens. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Opposing Viewpoints Digests. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 6 Dec. 2010.

American Civil Liberties Union. “Book Banning Threatens Free Speech.” Free Speech. Ed. John Boaz. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Current Controversies. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 6 Dec. 2010.

“Number of Challenges by Year, Reason, Initiator & Institution.” American Library Association. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 13 Dec 2010.