Book bans undermine liberties

Freedom New Mexico

Very few pieces of American literature provide a better lesson of the absurdity and pointlessness of banning books as does “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been challenged and sometimes banned in school districts, mainly because of the use of racial slurs and the book’s “depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression,” according to the Marshall University library’s Web site section dedicated to banned books.

Both points of contention are central cogs in the story of attorney Atticus Finch’s defense of Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Indeed, the language and storyline drive home the message of the wrongs of racism.

This is Banned Books Week, which runs through Saturday. According to the American Library Association, the week “is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. … (The event) 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.”

One of the more ridiculous incidents posted on the Marshall site involves “Notre Dame vs. The Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated The Ku Klux Klan,” by Todd Tucker.

A student employee at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis was found guilty by school administrators of racial harassment simply for reading in a public area the historical tome, which recounts Notre Dame students’ confrontation with Klan members.

The student contacted the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the school backed off.

We agree with Joan E. Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, who wrote Monday for The Huffington Post: “Of course, parents have certain rights to direct their children’s education. What we oppose is the effort of one parent or a group of parents to make decisions about what other people’s children may read. The First Amendment gives all parents the right to make choices about their children’s education.”

Banned Books Week is another reminder that, as a society, we would be much better off if we spent less time trying to shield others from what we personally perceive as detrimental, and instead invested in efforts to respect and understand individual freedom and liberty.