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Book Banning: The Right of Schools, Libraries and Other Institutions on Banning Books.

How would you feel if you were a Christian and were banned from reading the Bible, or if you were a Muslim, and were banned from reading the Qu'ran? As ridiculous as it may sound, these books are prominent among the thousands of books that have faced censorship throughout the history. With the free media movement today, though, censoring has faced severe criticism from authors, journalists, artists and other progressive activists. This matter has stirred up a lot of debate in two fronts: first being banning books in a universal level and the second, seen with a more moderate eye, being restricting children from accessing certain books. At the latter part, schools, libraries and other places related to children have become the focal point of the argument. The question arises when determining which books should be banned and most importantly, by whom? Even though it is favored by the majority to let above-mentioned institutions ban controversial books, this must be done only by a separate objective professional body while book banning as a whole must be limited to putting age restrictions.

Limiting the access of books for children must be done in a way that does not violate their right of freedom of thought. There definitely are writings that can be detrimental for children, and when it comes to the question who have the rights to prevent younger generation from accessing these books, one might naturally point towards parents. This appointment, seemingly very innocent and intuitive, is deduced from a rather wicked idea that a child does not have the right to choose what religion or ideology they should have. As one author put it bluntly,

"If parents don't want a child to read certain books, they have the authority as guardian of that child to prevent him or her from reading material they find offensive or counter to their religious beliefs" [Barbara McCuen 06/15/00].
This 'parental authority' thus seems to be a dictatorship that crushes the rights of children. The connection of schools and libraries with parents takes the matter further, as these public institutions are compelled to adhere to parents' demands extending their totalitarian-like hand to a school level. A report on St. Petersberg times best explains this fact, “... one elementary school will not stock two of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling because of the "witchcraft themes." As the Principal explained it, the school knew they would get complaints about the books so they did not buy them” [K. Gazella 01/28/2000]. Many children in that school thus miss the opportunity to read one of the most favorite child novels of the time. In fact, the right to ban books should not be held by libraries, schools and other groups for it can become a tool to condemn child rights.

With the power of regulating held by different institutions individually, arises another question; Why should your child (or you yourself, for that matter,) should be denied access to certain literature because your neighbor happened to have different views than you? If these places remove all the books that they think are controversial from the shelves, people will not get a chance to be exposed to different views. As Judy Blume sees it, "If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty" [Censorship 1]. Hence, if people want their children to read books that they think are important, they should not limit others' children from reading what others think important. In this sense only the literature that is collectively identified as harmful should be restricted, while determining this 'harmfulness' must be done by a separate entity which has a global participation of parents.

Apart from under-age restriction, there should be no other way of book banning. Most of the time, books are banned for the general public because of the different and often conflicting views that these books talk about. The different opinions expressed, though, are the cream of the crop, as they demand the reader acquire more knowledge on the subject. Lillian Hellman, a playwright supporting leftist causes appearing before The House Committee on Un-American Activities stated that “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions ...“ [Hellman Letter to HUAC, 05/19/52]. This is the opinion held by many readers who seek the truth and open to questioning of their own views. Every book expresses ideas of other people, ideas of the author, to the very least. Even though some books can carry false facts, arguments or inappropriate content, it should be the readers' decision whether they should or should not read them. Furthermore, if one can know what he is putting in his stomach when eating a fat bar of chocolate by reading the 'Nutrition Facts' on its label, why can not he read the back part of a book and know what he is about to put in his head? Rather than outright banning, a mechanism to point out the unaccepted content would thus point the reader in the right direction. Hence, book banning should be avoided as these should-be-banned books open the readers' mind to a different perspective.

Various reasons for which schools, libraries and other groups have failed to implement a proper mechanism in censorship leads to the necessity of an institution that can protect the readers from the effects of books that are argued inappropriate. Books that are highly detrimental to a child's mind is the only thing that must be restricted and it should be done only by an intellectual panel of child psychologists, and any book that its controversiality can be explained should not be banned but should carry a small amendment introducing the inappropriateness of the book. This can be used to neutralize the harmful effect the books might have had not only on children but also on adults when used for adult books. The power of book banning, thus, should be held only by a responsible professional body, which will restrict certain books for certain ages and will recommend amendments to the so-called racist, obscene or offensive books warning about their content to the reader.

Social institutions like libraries should not be entitled to any censorship rights, as it can be a way of suppressing different opinions. Minors, the only group that must be protected from these books should be able to pick any controversial book that comes with a warning of its contents, and gain knowledge while only the books whose contents cannot be justified must go on the higher shelves with restricted access. As for adults, literature that is questionable according to the public can accompany a small 'Nutrition facts' label that will neutralize its effects and make the reader question the contents. To identify the books that should be restricted and to provide such 'warning flags' previously mentioned, an intellectual panel should be formed transferring all the censoring authority, or restricting authority to be precise, to that panel which will take over censoring rights from any other institution. The debate over which books should be banned is far from over, but having one authority for regulating literature rather than thousands of schools and libraries having thousands of preferences, will definitely be favorable for authentic authors with different views and hence, the society as a whole.


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