Friday, November 20, 2009

SafeLibraries Abuses the Definitions Banned and Censored

At last, we get to the end of my list, number six of the six basic and basically incorrect tenets that SafeLibraries constantly builds on. I've dealt with this one elsewhere, so I'll keep it short.

Denial is a wonderful thing.  Censorship proponents often say utterly irrational things like, "we don't want to ban anything, we just want this book removed from the library."  Or they'll say, "we don't want to censor anything, we just want this book re-shelved from the children's section to the adult section." Safelibraries and a number of conservative columnists love to say that the Banned Book Week is a hoax, claiming that no books have been banned in the US in decades.  And, ever so conveniently, they all get to paint themselves as something other than what they are. "We're not censors," they claim, "we just . . . ."

While words like censorship and banning certainly do apply to large-scale prohibitions, they also apply to very small-scale infringements on Free Speech. The general understanding of the term has never been restricted only to large-scale prohibitions, and any attempt to restrict its use that way is artificial and self-serving.

Regardless of the common understanding of the terms, courts have made it abundantly clear that they can can and do apply to very small-scale infringements on Free Speech.  In their formal decisions they've called the removal, even the re-shelving, of a single volume in single library, censorship and banning. They've also made it clear that the terms apply even when a book is abundantly available outside of a library, in bookstores or other locations (availability in one location does not change the fact that restricting access in another location is, in fact, censorship and banning).

So the kinds of restrictions commonly proposed in library book challenges are censorship. And that means that many books that have been removed from libraries, re-shelved within libraries, or had access restrictions put on them, have, in fact, been banned. That's not my opinion. That's court precedent.  Banned Books Week, then, is far from a hoax.  Books are banned and censored every year.

And if those kinds of restrictions are, by court usage, censorship and banning, than the proponents of those restrictions are censors and banners: censors by intent if they work to achieve such ends, and censors in fact if they do achieve them.

For examples of how courts have used the terms banned and censored, see Right to Read Defense Committee v. School Committee of the City of Chelsea, US District Court, MA (1978), 454 F. Supp. 703, and Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas, US District Court, N.D. Texas (2000), 121 F.Supp. 2nd 530.


  1. Well written, all of them.

    You know, I'd have more respect for National Hogwash Week if the website didn't try to correlate some poor little girl getting molested in a bathroom at a public library (A little off topic, soory about that).

  2. Off topic AND I forgot to write the other half of the sentence. I'm on fire today!

    That should have continued as "with supposedly pornographic books on the library shelves."

  3. He never really does provide evidence for the causal link there. I've never seen any evidence, just conjecture. post tomorrow will sort of, kind of, agree with him on one point.