This month more than any, gentle readers, reminds us of the importance of our First Amendment rights:
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.
In particular, I'm thinking of the YA novel SPEAK, which I've learned from the author, Laurie Halse Anderson (via Janet Reid and Tahereh Mafi) has been called "pornography" by Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University. (His original op-ed in the Springfield News-Leader can be found here.)
Challenging books with sexual or otherwise "questionable" content is nothing new; Joyce's Ulysses was branded pornography when it was first published serially in the United States in 1918 (a charge that wasn't dismissed until the Supreme Court case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses in 1933). Many profoundly important books—including several major works of Western literature—have been challenged or banned at some point in their histories, and it's due in large part to the First Amendment and individual teachers', librarians', and activists' commitment to free speech and opposition to censorship that these books have been made available to United States citizens, students included.
Scroggins maintains that not only should SPEAK be banned, but modern classics like Slaughter-House Five (which, according to Republic Superintendent Vern Minor, has been removed from all school libraries) should also be unavailable to students (mostly due to use of "the f-word"). For context, the district in question teaches abstinence-only sex education to all students, and Scroggins has also been involved in Reclaiming Missouri for Christ, a seminar whose purpose was "to educate... all citizens... to the role of fundamental, Biblical Christianity in the establishment... of our legal... system" (again, emphasis mine). The full quote is in Laurie's post.
I, like Laurie, fear that parents (and possibly even educators) reading Scroggins' op-ed will believe what Scroggins is saying, and will pressure schools to remove valuable books from their libraries as a result. I therefore propose the following, Concerned Parents of America: before you make a decision to remove a book from a library, read it yourself. If you find you disagree with the content, communicate this to your child. Be aware of what your children are reading, watching on television, or browsing on the Internet. Just because you determine a book is unacceptable for you or your child does not give you the right to deprive other people of the right to read that book. Period.
I urge you, mes auteurs, via Laurie's post, to comment on Scroggins' op-ed, write a letter to Superintendent Vern Minor, write a letter to the News-Leader, or simply tweet this post, Laurie's, Tahereh's, or Janet's, using the #SpeakLoudly hashtag.
The freedom to read what we wish is precious and protected in this country. We don't know what we have until it's taken away.