Banned Books Week 2017

(text from the American Library Association website)

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

To continue to raise awareness about the harms of censorship and the freedom to read, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) publishes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books, using information from public challenges reported in the media, as well as censorship reports submitted to the office through its challenge reporting form.

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.

The books featured during Banned Books Week and National Library Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. But out of the hundreds of challenges ALA records every year, only about 10% of books are removed from the location where the challenge took place, thanks to local literary champions such as librarians, students, and patrons who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Out of 323 challenges reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2016 are:

This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award-winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.

George written by Alex Gino
Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.

Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.

Looking for Alaska written by John Green
This 2006 Printz Award winner is a young adult novel that was challenged and restricted for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”

Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Considered to be sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, this compilation of adult comic books by two prolific award-winning artists was banned and challenged.

Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
This collection of adult short stories, which received positive reviews from Newsweek and the New York Times, was challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive.”

Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
This children’s book series was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.

Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language.

Yes, books are still banned. Five of the 10 titles on the Top Ten list were removed from the location where the challenge took place. On average, OIF finds that 10% of challenges result in the removal of the book.

The First Amendment guarantees all of us the freedom to read. The Library Bill of Rights, a foundational document of the library profession, states libraries should challenge censorship and present all points of view, for the enlightenment of all people.

For the first time in Top Ten history, a book was challenged solely because of its author. Bill Cosby’s Little Bill series was challenged because of sexual allegations against the author.

Challenges continue to target LGBT material, and there is a rise in “sexually explicit” as a challenge category.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles the Top Ten list by documenting public challenges (challenges that are reported in the media), as well as censorship reports submitted through the office’s reporting form, in our database.

Learn more about the American Library Association and Banned Books Week here.

Banned Books Week 2015

Young Adult books are the focus of Banned Books Week in 2015. Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the freedom to read, will run from September 27 through October 3, 2015, and will be observed in libraries, schools, bookstores and other community settings across the nation and the world.

“Young Adult books are challenged more frequently than any other type of book,” said Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. “These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. This Banned Books Week is a call to action, to remind everyone that young people need to be allowed the freedom to read widely, to read books that are relevant for them, and to be able to make their own reading choices.”

In recent years, the majority of the most frequently challenged books in libraries have been Young Adult (YA) titles. Six YA titles were on the list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2014, according to the American Library Association. Attempted bans on books of all kinds also frequently occur under the guise of protecting younger audiences.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by encouraging read-outs, displays, and community activities that raise awareness of the ongoing threat of censorship. Last year, tens of thousands of people participated in Banned Books Week online. More than 500 videos were posted in a virtual read-out, and thousands participated in hundreds of events in bookstores, libraries, and schools and universities across the country.

BannedBooksWeek.org is a hub for information about how individuals and institutions can get involved. The website also includes resources and activities provided by event sponsors.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of College Stores, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, People For the American Way Foundation, PEN American Center, and Project Censored. (via the American Library Association website)

So what are the top challenged Young Adult* books of 2014-2015?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books/Knopf Doubleday)
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston)
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster)
Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix/Scholastic)
Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)
The Giver, by Lois Lowry (HMH Books for Young Readers)
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (Vintage/Knopf Doubleday)
Looking for Alaska, by John Green (Dutton Books/Penguin Random House)

Data courtesy of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.

* Young Adult literature is generally written for an audience between the ages of about eleven or twelve to about seventeen or eighteen. This is not a steadfast rule, but rather a general parameter. For the purpose of this list, the sponsors of Banned Books Week have defined Young Adult as books that have been taught in middle and high schools, and/or are located in the teen collections of public and/or school libraries.

Curious as to what the full list of banned and challenged books were for 2014-2015? Check it out here.

Report challenges to books to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom! And remember to read!

Looking for a Young Adult book to read? Buzzfeed lists 37 Books Every YA Fan Needs To Read Before They Die (According to Goodreads Users).

The State of Faith in America

In 2012 a Pew Research study showed that one-fifth of the U.S. public identified themselves as unaffiliated with any religion. This means atheist, agnostic, and just darn nothing. Apparently two years later this inspired the folks at Larry King Now to put together a show on “The State of Faith in America” that primarily focused on the rising tide of nonbelievers in the United States. Assuming that two years later we’re still trending that way. (I just want some newer data to prompt a show on Larry! That’s all I’m saying.)

Now I am a lady that has watched more than her fair share of round table television shows and many, okay all, of them have featured people on opposite ends of the issue being discussed. The guests for this one are: Gus Holwerda, who directed the documentary “The Unbelievers”, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist who is featured in the film “The Unbelievers”, Michael Beckwith, a new thought minister and author, David A.R. White, a Christian actor who stars in “God’s Not Dead”, and Jay Bakker, pastor, speaker, author, and son of Jim and Tammy Faye.

The participants were respectful of each other and although I may have detected a hint of exasperation in Krauss’s voice on the rare occasion, voices were never raised and tempers never flared. The problem is the show is only 30 minutes so no thoughts were given a chance to be expanded upon and no responses were given a chance for the other side to then make a brief rebuttal. King’s heart was in the right place, but he needed at least 60 minutes for it to be a real conversation.

Let’s be honest, we could have a million round tables like these and many of the questions posed by King may never be settled to the satisfaction of every American. The folks over at Larry King Now were nice enough to bring this episode to my attention and now I’m sharing it with you, if you’re interested.

Also for those who may be interested, here is the trailer for the movie “God’s Not Dead” that guest David A.R. White is in.

And for those of you who want the flip side trailer, here’s the one for “The Unbelievers”.

Banned Books Week 2014

It’s my favorite celebratory week again! Welcome to Banned Books Week! Go Team Freedom of Speech!

From the American Library Association website, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Books are challenged and banned at schools and public libraries all over the United States. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

This year there is a special focus on graphic novels. For those of you unfamiliar with this format, a graphic novel is essentially comics bound into a trade paperback format. Many people don’t understand that the comic format can be used to tell complex stories that deal with adult themes. This leads to many misunderstandings where a parent assumes a graphic novel is appropriate for a child, even if shelved in the adult section of a library, because it’s just a comic book, how bad can it be?

When I was young, like elementary school and early junior high, I read the occasional comic book. My Mom would sometimes buy me an Archie, Misty, or Dakota North book at the grocery store. I knew other comic books existed, like Superman and Batman, but I didn’t really have any interest. Overall I had no real interest in comics.

Then one day in high school a friend had this odd book with him. It was a thin, with a leather cover that had an odd gold key on it. When I expressed an interest, he asked if I liked comics. I said they were okay. And that’s when he loaned me the graphic novel “Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes” by Neil Gaimen.

It collected “Sandman” issues 1-8. I read it in one sitting and it turned my mind inside out. It had visuals that repulsed me (and still do), but writing that was compelling. It created a world, and characters, I’d never experienced before, and it did it through the medium of comics. After that I was sold. First I had to make sure I was on top of the “Sandman” series. Then fortunately as an adult I found a comic store who had an owner with a real knack for finding exactly what I would like. Now I have a large graphic novel collection that yes, even has some Batman in it.

Now I learn that a large selection of my favorite graphic novels have been banned or challenged and that really concerns me. Not only do these books have literary value in their own right, I feel graphic novels are a great gateway reading device for kids and teenagers who may have lost their love of reading or have yet to develop it. Keeping the age appropriate ones available in schools is of upmost importance and keeping the others available in public libraries is just, well, kick ass.

Banned and Challenged Comics

“Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations” by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr., and Scott Hanna
“Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again” by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
“Batman: The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Boland
“Blankets” by Craig Thompson
“Bone” by Jeff Smith
“Dragon Ball” by Akira Toriyama
“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
“Ice Haven” by Daniel Clowes
“In The Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak
“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier” by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
“Maus” by Art Spiegelman
“Neonomicon” by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi
“Pride of Baghdad” by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
“Sandman” by Neil Gaiman and various artists
“SideScrollers” by Matthew Loux
“Stuck in the Middle”, edited by Ariel Schrag
“Stuck Rubber Baby” by Howard Cruse
“Tank Girl” by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
“The Color of Earth” by Kim Dong Hwa
“Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

If you want to help defend challenged comics and graphic novels, consider donating to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Curious about what books have been banned or challenged this 2013-2014 cycle? Check out this year’s list!

Banned Books Week 2012

Today starts Banned Books Week! In fact, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of this national event that celebrates the freedom to read. This is also the fifth year that we’ve featured the event on our site! The traditional fifth year anniversary gift is wood and the modern is silverware if you’re considering getting us a gift. Anyway, as the American Library Association says, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.”

You can learn more about Banned Books Week and how you can participate at the American Library Association Website. While you’re there you can view a list of frequently challenged books that are considered classics. And on this, the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week AND the 5th anniversary of us celebrating Banned Books Week on The Magical Buffet I picked a classic very close to my heart to share with you today.

From their list is:

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Banned in Ireland (1932). Removed from classrooms in Miller, MO (1980), because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun.” Challenged frequently throughout the U.S. as required reading. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, OK High School (1988) because of “the book’s language and moral content.” Challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, CA Unified School District (1993) because it is “centered around negative activity.” Specifically, parents objected that the characters’ sexual behavior directly opposed the health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence until marriage. The book was retained, and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Huxley’s novel. Removed from the Foley, AL High School Library (2000) pending review, because a parent complained that its characters showed contempt for religion, marriage, and family. The parent complained to the school and to Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Challenged, but retained in the South Texas Independent School District in Mercedes, TX (2003). Parents objected to the adult themes—sexuality, drugs, suicide—that appeared in the novel. Huxley’s book was part of the summer Science Academy curriculum. The board voted to give parents more control over their children’s choices by requiring principals to automatically offer an alternative to a challenged book. Retained in the Coeur D’Alene, ID School District (2008) despite objections that the book has too many references to sex and drug use.

In high school I was given a list of books and told to choose a book on the list to read. I chose “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. I can say unreservedly that no child should have to read this book. Not because of sex, drugs, or suicide, but because the book stunk. Seriously. One of my biggest regrets in high school was picking “Brave New World” from that damn list. Why? Why, oh why didn’t I pick “1984”? You can leave it in the libraries, but please, teachers, I beseech you, stop the misery now, don’t have your students read “Brave New World”. Consider it a Banned Books Week anniversary gift.

Banned Books Week 2011

It’s the last week of September and so that means it is once again Banned Books Week! From the American Library Association website, “Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

One of the features on the website is a free downloadable booklet that talks about Banned Books Week and how you can support it. It also features a list of books that have been banned and/or challenged in 2010-2011 (the list runs May 2010 to May 2011). The booklet is appropriately titled “Books Challenged and/or Banned in 2010-2011” and it’s by Robert P. Doyle. In case you were curious as to what books have been banned and/or challenged this past year, I thought I would share the list. For details about each book’s situation, check out the booklet.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Flamingo Rising by Larry Baker
The Notebook Girls: Four Friends, One Diary, Real Life by Julie Baskin, Lindsey Newman, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, and Courtney Toombs
Forever in Blue, the Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
My Mom’s Having a Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler
Betrayed by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
The Dead Man in Indian Creek by Mary Downing Hahn
Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Stolen Children by Peg Kehret
The Koran
Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle in India by Joseph Lelveld
Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras and Dane Saavedra
Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa by Mark Mathabane
Shooting Star by Fredrick McKissack Jr.
Writers’ Voice: Selected from Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette
Tweaked: A Crystal Meth Memoir by Patrick Moore
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Push by Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)
Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs by Carl Semencic
We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives by Paul Shaffer
The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star by Nikki Sixx
Bone by Jeff Smith
One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology edited by Amy Sonnie
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Jubilee by Margaret Walker
Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems from WritersCorps

To learn more about Banned Books Week visit the American Library Association website.

Missing Banned Books Week

So I went on a cruise to Bermuda at the end of September. It was wonderful and there will eventually be a drink by drink article about the trip (of course), but before I get to that, I need to take a moment to address something that slipped past me while I was running around packing and making my rum priority list for this recent vacation. The last week of September was Banned Book Week.

Highlighting Banned Book Week hasn’t been a truly “traditional” feature on The Magical Buffet. I intended every end of September to bring attention to Banned Book Week, the way every October I highlight Breast Cancer Action, but alas Banned Book Week was only on the site in 2007, 2009, and this year I’m late. Oops!

In case this is all news to you, let me direct your attention to the American Library Associations website to bring you up to speed:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
The first year I mentioned Banned Book Week here at The Buffet, I listed some examples of books that had been banned or challenged on religious grounds. Last year I gave readers a link to a nifty map from the Banned Books Week website showing book bans and challenges from 2007-2009. That map is still up and now reflects 2007-2010. Since this year’s Banned Book Week snuck up on me (You know, by occurring at the same time each year.) that instead of digging up new lists or widgets I would take a moment to dip my toe into the muddy waters of the book burning debate.

I believe in burning things in protest, as long as it’s done safely as to not harm people or property. If you hate me, feel free to burn an effigy of me; it certainly beats being set on fire. You don’t like our country, our policies, or other sundries, burn the American flag. Have at it. Ladies, still feeling the yoke of oppression? Burn as many bras as you’d like. I won’t be joining you. As I get older I depend more and more on adequate under wire support, and as a liberated woman, I can choose to have my breasts lifted in a vain attempt to pretend they’re still my breasts from high school. I may sound a bit like a fire bug, but I have a line….

It is never cool to burn books. Period. I get it, Harry Potter is a magic user, Islam is “different”, the end of “Brave New World” sucked (Hmmm…..I may be the only one who has considered the “Brave New World” book burning event.), but regardless of my personal thoughts on the content in a book, I would never condone the act of destroying someone else’s thoughts and expression. I know I’m a “liberal” and/or a “progressive” and/or a “socialist” (as the kids are saying these days), so I know my thoughts probably aren’t surprising any regular readers, however, in these tumultuous times, perhaps it’s a good idea to sit down and decide where our individual boundaries lie. I know that every person has the right to express themselves through the symbolic burning of books, and I wouldn’t stop you, but I’d hope you wouldn’t do it.

My friend once said, in character at a roleplaying game session I was at, that “information must be free”. Oddly, that fictional character’s exclamation has informed much of thoughts regarding our First Amendment and issues with freedom of speech and expression. When a book is banned, a population is deprived of the thoughts and ideas expressed by the author. In my mind, there is nothing more final than instead of banning a book opting to burn it to ash. It just doesn’t seem like freedom to me.

Banned Books Week 2009

In September 2007 I wrote about Banned Books Week. I figured with the 2009 Banned Books Week’s arrival, it was a good time to revisit this event. In case you missed my last article about this in 2007, here’s a refresher of what we’re talking about as stated on the American Library Association’s website:

Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where the freedom to express oneself and the freedom to choose what opinions and viewpoints to consume are both met.

Books aren’t always banned, often times they are challenged, but thanks to the efforts of students, teachers, parents, librarians, and organizations like the ALA, many challenged books get to remain in libraries. “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials,” explains the ALA website.

In 2007 I listed some books that were banned or challenged on religious grounds. I still recommend reading a banned book to celebrate this event, (Click here for a list of banned classics.) but for 2009 I thought I would provide you with a different interesting widget.

Click here to view a map from the Banned Books Week website showing book bans and challenges from 2007-2009. The website explains that the map probably only reflects 20-25% of actual incidents since many challenges are not reported. This map is drawn from cases documented by ALA and the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a collaboration of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

It’s a really interesting thing to examine, and by clicking on any of the markers you can get the details of that area’s incident. For instance, Indianapolis, Indiana: (2008) Todd Tucker’s “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan” became controversial when the IUPUI administrators found that a student-employee was guilty of racial harassment merely for reading the book in a public area. The student-employee contact the ACLU of Indiana and six months later received a letter from IUPUI expressing regret and that the school was committed to upholding the freedom of speech on campus.

Take a moment this week to celebrate the freedom to read!

10 Questions with a First Amendment Lawyer

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving (in the United States), a time where traditionally I gush about how thankful I am for the support and enthusiasm of Magical Buffet readers. Which I truly am, but today I’d like to say this, “I am thankful to be an American.”

It’s true. I love this country. No other country gives its citizens the freedoms that America does. Just look through my website, it’s littered with posts about people in other countries suffering because they don’t have the freedoms we have here in America. In my opinion, our Founding Fathers were freakin’ geniuses for our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And as a proud American, I get concerned when I learn that the government is trying to infringe on those freedoms or worse succeeding at it.

This leads to something else I’m thankful for, that there are people willing to help myself and my readers learn more. Take the time to read my interview with Lawrence G. Walters, First Amendment Lawyer extraordinaire.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll talk to you after the weekend!

1. What made you decide to specialize in First Amendment law?
Originally, my practice was involved typical, mainstream, commercial litigation work representing banks, insurance firms and construction companies. After about four years of that nonsense, something happened that would set me on my current course. The State Attorney in my home county started prosecuting “Mom and Pop” video stores for renting films he did not like. He had Sheriff’s Deputies hand deliver letters demanding that certain movies be taken off the shelves, or the stores would face criminal prosecution. Although I had no experience in First Amendment law, that didn’t sound right to me, and I offered to help these small business owners, on a pro bono basis, to fight this apparent abuse of prosecutorial power. Fortunately, we won all of the cases, and forced the State Attorney to back down. After that small taste of defending Free Speech rights, I was hooked.

2. Do you feel there are any common misconceptions about the First Amendment?
Definitely. First, the First Amendment only applies to governmental censorship, not the activities of private corporations or individuals. We constantly get questions from people wanting to sue websites like Yahoo! or Google because they have been banned from participating in certain online groups based on their online communications. Private companies can censor all they want, without violating the First Amendment. The same goes for private employers. However, when the government tries to impose some sort of penalty or prior permission on speech-related activities; that is a problem.

Another misconception results from people trying to also blame the First Amendment for keeping the “prayer out of schools.” Students are free to pray all they want in school without violating the First Amendment. It is only when a Public School forces children to participate in prayer-related activities, or punishes them in some way for failing to do so, that the “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment is implicated.

3. How is something determined to be slander or libel, as opposed to the exercising of freedom of speech?
The concept of libel/slander, both of which are referred to as “defamation,” can be somewhat complex. But in general, all speech is presumed to be protected by the First Amendment with very narrowly-drawn exceptions. One of those exceptions involves defamation, which is defined as publication of a false statement of fact that causes damage to an individual’s reputation. Importantly, the false statement must relate to an issue of fact, and not one’s opinion. Thus I can say, “Ford Sucks” without any legal repercussion, because that is my opinion. But if I say: “The wheels come off of Ford vehicles if the car exceed 40 mile per hour” I can be sued for defamation, unless I have the facts to back up my statement. Truth is always a defense to defamation, so you can make damaging statements of fact about individuals or companies so long as you have the ability to prove the truth of those matters in court.

4. What are the free expression rights of students in public schools under the First Amendment?
Students do not surrender their Free Speech rights when they enter the classroom. But schools are allowed to impose some restrictions on student speech that would not be constitutional if applied to adults outside the classroom setting. Students’ rights under the First Amendment were the strongest in the late 1960’s, when the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Warren, decided the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Under that case’s holding, students had the ability to express themselves – even through their choice of clothing, so long as that expression did not materially disrupt the educational environment. Although that is still technically the law, later decisions from more conservative incarnations of the Supreme Court have dramatically reduced the scope of student free speech rights, allowing schools to censor student speech even to preserve decency or morality.

5. Is a public school student’s choice of dress Constitutionally protected? Including hair color, piercings, etc.
Today, the schools can probably get away with restricting or mandating student dress code so long as the school policy is not “content based.” In other words, the school cannot forbid Democratic political messages on t-shirts while allowing Republican political t-shirts. If everybody is required to wear a white t-shirt as part of a school uniform, that is not a content-based decision. Things like piercings, hair color, tattoos, etc., have been held not to be protected by the First Amendment, and therefore the schools can most likely regulate those items.

6. Has the nature of the First Amendment changed during the past eight years?
Unfortunately, yes. Constitutional rights in general have been eviscerated during the George W. Bush Administration. As a result of repugnant laws like the Patriot Act, as well as the appointment of numerous conservative federal judges throughout the country, it is becoming more and more difficult to prevail on First Amendment–based legal challenges to government censorship activities. Often, these conservative courts will evaluate the ‘value’ of the specific message at issue in a given case, instead of treating all speech equally, as is required under the First Amendment. So, for example, political speech is given more protection than erotic speech, or sarcastic humor. Hopefully we can begin repairing some of this damage during the next presidential administration.

7. Are there restrictions to how people can assemble and petition the government?
The First Amendment protects the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. These two aspects of the First Amendment have not been fleshed out by the courts, and there is not much law interpreting these rights. One restriction on assembly rights is the requirement that such assemblies be peaceful, and not advocate any form of violence. Recently, there have been efforts at the state and federal levels designed to force protestors to conduct their assembly in designated “free speech zones.” This is clearly an effort by the government to separate the speakers from the intended recipients of the message. Any restrictions on the time, place, or manner of an assembly must be “reasonable” and must provide for alternative means of conducting the communicative activity.

8. Can employers place restrictions with regard to their employee’s ability to practice their religion, such as attire, garb, prayer needs, or time off for religious observances?
Private employers have more latitude with respect to restrictions on religious activities than governmental employers. However, neither private, nor public employers may discriminate against individuals based on their religion or “creed.” These are protected civil rights under federal law. Unfortunately, employers will often find alternative, non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action, so proving a violation of the First Amendment in such cases can be difficult. But technically, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for the exercise of one’s religion, so long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the employee’s duties.

9. What actions can an individual take if they feel they are being deprived of their First Amendment rights?
The first thing is to stand your ground. So many free citizens capitulate to governmental oppression these days, and that is unfortunate. We only have as much freedom as we demand in this country. Government, by its very nature, will always seek to stifle individual freedoms, and try to grab control. It is essential that citizens of this great country stand up, speak up, and be heard. We have the right NOT to remain silent in America. If the government is doing something illegal, there are hundreds of First Amendment lawyers throughout this nation who are willing to take these cases and fight hard for their clients. The First Amendment Lawyers Association, www.FirstAmendmentLawyers.org, is a good place to start looking for a First Amendment attorney if one is needed.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
If you could be guaranteed, for the rest of your life, that you would not be the victim of any crime, harassment, or misfortune, would you be willing to give up your constitutional rights to the government?

That is a very difficult question, and one that I don’t think anyone could honestly answer without being in the actual situation. I’d like to think that when push came to shove I would do the right thing….not give up my constitutional rights. I don’t imagine myself to be particularly brave or heroic, but I’d like to think that I would be willing to die to insure those rights for everyone.

Bio:

Lawrence G. Walters is a partner in the national law firm of Weston, Garrou, Walters & Mooney, which maintains offices in Orlando, Los Angeles, San Diego and Salt Lake City. Mr. Walters has developed an outstanding reputation for representing the interests of the online entertainment community. He has practiced law for almost two decades, concentrating in the areas of constitutional, media and Internet law. He is recognized as a national expert on legal issues pertaining to Free Speech and the Internet, and frequently contributes to television news programs on networks such as NBC, ABC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN. His high profile cases are regularly followed by the print media, and he’s been quoted in such periodicals as the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired Magazine, Business 2.0, Playboy, ABA Journal, St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, etc.

He began practicing law in Central Florida in 1988, after graduating from Florida State University, College of Law, with Honors. While in law school, he studied English Common Law at Oxford University and interned with a federal judge in the Northern District of Florida. During his career, Mr. Walters has served as a professor at the University of Central Florida, and acted as a Director for the local Bar Association and the local Chamber of Commerce. Among his many civic and community activities, he has served as Chair of the Legal Panel of the ACLU, Central Chapter, and currently participates on the advisory panels for the University of Central Florida’s Law Studies Program, and the Heifer.org charitable group. He has established and directed numerous non-profit associations and trade groups, including the Internet Freedom Association, the Jacksonville Property Rights Association and the Association of Coastal Property Owners. His efforts in helping fight online child pornography earned him the Annual Service Recognition Award from the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, www.asacp.org in January, 2005. Recently, Mr. Walters was recognized as one of the Top 100 News Makers by the media industry group, Xbiz, and was included in the top 10% in the ‘Best of the Bar’ competition, conducted by the Orlando Business Journal.

Mr. Walters’ First Amendment law practice dates back to the late ’80s when he defended numerous video stores in Florida against obscenity charges. In 1997, he formed the Florida Bar’s First Amendment Law Committee, which he currently chairs. He represents hundreds of webmasters across the globe in connection with the regulation and protection of online content. Mr. Walters regularly deals with issues relating to online advertising, Internet gaming, domain name protection and other cutting edge practice areas. His law firm has been established for over 45 years, and handles cases involving constitutional and commercial issues such as civil rights litigation, licensing and zoning suits, intellectual property claims, appeals and complex criminal defense. Larry often represents clients in the fields of online gambling, adult entertainment, online dating and Internet pharmaceuticals. He has initiated over 100 federal law suits, and defended over 30 criminal obscenity cases during his career, many of which involved racketeering charges.

Mr. Walters is a frequent lecturer on Free Speech issues, and has presented seminars across the Country on Internet law, Gaming law and the First Amendment. One of his speeches dealing with the First Amendment and Terrorism, was published in the Representative American Speeches of 2003, along with those of President George W. Bush, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. He regularly publishes articles of interest to Webmasters on countless websites and magazines, including legal updates directed at specific industries. His website, www.FirstAmendment.com, receives over 1.5 million hits per month, and is recognized as a global resource on Internet law issues. He operates several other websites including www.GameCensorship.com dealing with legal and legislative attempts to censor video games. Over the years, Mr. Walters has published several law review articles on gambling advertising and obscenity regulation, along with a book chapter on the First Amendment protections of commercial speech. His accolades in the legal field have earned him recognition as an honored member in the Who’s Who Registry of Outstanding Professionals, 2006-07 Edition.

In 2005, Mr. Walters was appointed to the Board of Officers of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a prominent group of First Amendment practitioners, for which he regularly presents lectures on Free Speech and the Internet. He has earned a “BV” (very high) rating from Martindale Hubbell, the national rating service for lawyers. Mr. Walters is admitted to practice in all state and federal courts in Florida, as well as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, D.C. In addition he has been admitted pro hac vice to courts across the country.

Guess What Today Is!

Today is my Uncle’s birthday, and he’s not feeling well, so let’s all say “Happy Birthday and feel better soon!” Now he can cringe as I go from warm birthday wishes to what this blog is about, the National Action Network’s Decency Awards, which is an extension of their Decency Initiative. For those of you who think you’re unfamiliar with the NAN, does this name ring a bell? Reverend Al Sharpton. Yes, this is his organization.

A year ago today Sharpton and the NAN organized “A Day of Outrage” which were peaceful protests targeting music companies and industry executives across the United States. Although today is special, the Decency Initiative is active all year round. They are currently celebrating that because of pressure Nas’ latest album was released as untitled as opposed to n-word, which was its original title. Stay tuned, that’s another blog all together.

This isn’t a tirade against the NAN. Their organization does a lot of good. Keep demanding answers about Sean Bell Rev. Al! My problem is the idea of the Decency Initiative. It’s the same beef I have with the Anti-Defamation League (Another organization that does a lot of good, but….). You can’t just go around trying to silence anyone that has something to say that you find offensive. Yes, in a perfect world there would be no racial or religious slurs, there would also be no anger or outrage, no need for public discourse, and finally no need to get my butt up off the couch. (Wow, did I just do a “Ripple of Evil” like on the show “Root of All Evil”?) Censorship is not the path to understanding, it’s the path to ignorance.

What follows is my open letter to the NAN about their Decency Awards and Initiative. I’d like to think that I make a passionate, thoughtful, and polite argument on behalf of rap artists everywhere, but when you touch sensitive subjects, like the use of the n-word, well, reason does not always prevail. Somehow, I’d like to think that as a white Jewish woman I’ve gotten the brunt of rap music’s bile, and it makes my point of view valid, but as my friend Max said, “You’re not black.” But since other than Nas I can’t find anyone else willing to take a stand for the rights of rap artists, I took the plunge. Okay, plunge is a strong word, I’ve dangled my feet in the water…if I’m not litigated out of existence…or fired due to pickets outside of where I work….perhaps there will be a plunge. Nas, if the NAN comes after me, will you fund my legal defense?

To Tamika Mallory, National Director of NAN’s Decency Initiative:

I see on your website that August 7, 2008 the Decency Awards “are being held to honor entertainers who carry the torch of decency and to highlight positive images in our community.” That I am encouraged to “send in my nominations of entertainers, artists, athletes, and public figures who I think should be recognized”. But I am warned that, “all nominations are welcome, but keep in mind that haters will be disregarded”.

This forces me to ask the question, then why are you hating on the rap community? I’m writing to you today to please ask you to stop. Do I like to hear myself referred to as a bitch or ho, or my friends as niggers? Absolutely not! And yet, it boogles my mind that your organization, one that focuses so much time and energy on so many worthy causes, would waste your time to endeavor to enforce your version of decency onto musicians and their distributors.

I am a better person today because of the rap music I listened to in my youth. I grew up in a mid-sized rural community in Illinois, but because of artists like the Geto Boys, Queen Latifah, NWA, and Ice-T, I was able to learn about people living lives entirely different than my own. Yes, they had horrible language, and it shocked my 13 year-old ears to hear words like bitch and nigger, but that’s what art, at its best, is supposed to do. It shocked and enlightened me. Rap music started a chain reaction in my life. I thought more about the world outside of my hometown and I grew concerned about issues like race, drugs, poverty, and censorship. I’m sorry, but how dare you try to deny that life changing experience to others?

Please stop going after the music labels. Yes, they pressure artists, but I find it hard to believe that any music executive listens to an album and goes, this is okay, but you really need to add more references to bitches and niggers if you want to go gold. Those words are there because they are the language of the artist. And as a bitch and ho, I’m telling you, I’m okay with those words. How weak do you feel women are that they can’t handle a musician using them? In this day and age those words have no power, in fact, most women wear the label of bitch like a badge of honor. Those words have nowhere near the awful legacy of the terrible word nigger. Not being African American I cannot speak first hand of the feelings that word evokes. I can tell you that trying to police language is not going to solve anything. Putting the words out there makes them less powerful, not more. There was a time when bitch was universally a highly offensive term, but about 200 million bitches later, it’s really just another word…I promise. And thanks to the rap community, the word nigger really is losing its power. I worked in music retail for 10 years and every day I would hear teenage boys refer to each other as nigger. They were obviously using it as a term of affection, friendship, and brotherhood. At no point ever did I feel they were saying it out of malice or the belief that they were speaking to their slave. Thanks to rap music the word’s meaning is evolving.

As long as there are differences, there will always be hate, it’s a sad fact of human nature. Where there is fear and ignorance it will always be found. However, censoring artists is wrong. You never change the discussion if you edit the dialogue.

Please, take a moment to re-evaluate your Decency Initiative. I think if you do you’ll find that there are more important things you can be doing than picketing record label’s offices.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter and for all the good that your organization does.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Elson