Home » Book Censorship in the United States

Book censorship is the limitation or complete suppression of the making, distribution and reading/viewing of books. Around the world this issue is alive and well, albeit it takes different forms, and exists in widely diverse degrees, according to where one resides.

In the United States, it is the right of every individual citizen or organization to challenge a book, calling for its removal from public accessibility. And such challenges take place. However, the American Library Association does not support book censorship and although it tolerates challenges, it does not endorse book banning. Indeed, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—part of the Bill of Rights—includes verbiage prohibiting infringement of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, in reality the U.S. does have book censorship in its past, and continues to this day to practice some forms of censorship—albeit most often now at the school or local library level.

Although we would love to think that the United States has not and does not take part in censorship, it unfortunately is not the case. When European settlers moved to America, a religious flyer was taken away and destroyed by authorities in Massachusetts. These Puritans burned the flyer publicly in a marketplace…America’s first book-burning. The year was 1650.

In 1982, the Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court deciding that local school boards do not have the right to remove books from a school’s library’s shelves, if the intention is to prohibit the accessibility to students of ideas with which the challening party disagrees. This ruling set a precendent concerning school libraries and the First Amendment.

With its Bill of Rights firmly in place, book censorship in the U.S. will never have an easy go of it, although is the U.S. completely free of it? Look in our past and in some local challenges, and you will find it.

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