Banning the First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

Parents demanded it be banned.

School superintendents placed it in restricted sections of their libraries.

It is the most challenged book four of the past five years, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

“It” is a 32-page illustrated children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, with illustrations by Henry Cole. The book is based upon the real story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins, who had formed a six-year bond at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, and who “adopted” a fertilized egg and raised the chick until she could be on her own.

Gays saw the story as a positive reinforcement of their lifestyle. Riding to rescue America from homosexuality were the biddies against perversion. Gay love is against the Bible, they wailed; the book isn’t suitable for the delicate minds of children, they cried as they pushed libraries and schools to remove it from their shelves or at the very least make it restricted.

The penguins may have been gay-or maybe they weren’t. It’s not unusual for animals to form close bonds with others of their same sex. But the issue is far greater than whether or not the penguins were gay or if the book promoted homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. People have an inherent need to defend their own values, lifestyles, and worldviews by attacking others who have a different set of beliefs. Banning or destroying free speech and the freedom to publish is one of the ways people believe they can protect their own lifestyles.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the most challenged books, according to the ALA, were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, apparently because some people believe fictionalized witchcraft is a dagger into the soul of organized religion. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was the 10th most challenged in 2010. Perhaps some parents weren’t comfortable with their adolescents having to make a choice between werewolves and vampires.

Among the most challenged books is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the vicious satire about firemen burning books to save humanity. Other books that are consistently among the ALA’s list of most challenged are Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Chocolate War (Robert Cormier), Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou), Forever (Judy Blume), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), regarded by most major literary scholars as the finest American novel.

Name a classic, and it’s probably on the list of the most challenged books. Conservatives, especially fundamental religious conservatives, tend to challenge more books. But, challenges aren’t confined to any one political ideology. Liberals are frequently at the forefront of challenging books that may not agree with their own social philosophies. The feminist movement, while giving the nation a better awareness of the rights of women, wanted to ban Playboy and all works that depicted what they believed were unflattering images if women. Liberals have also attacked the works of Joel Chandler Harris (the Br’er Rabbit series), without understanding history, folklore, or the intent of the journalist-author, who was well-regarded as liberal for his era.

Although there are dozens of reasons why people say they want to restrict or ban a book, the one reason that threads its way through all of them is that the book challenges conventional authority or features a character who is perceived to be “different,” who may give readers ideas that many see as “dangerous.”

The belief there are works that are “dangerous” is why governments create and enforce laws that restrict publication. In colonial America, as in almost all countries and territories at that time, the monarchy required every book to be licensed, to be read by a government official or committee to determine if the book was suitable for the people. If so, it received a royal license. If not, it could not be printed.

In 1644, two decades before his epic poem Paradise Lost was published, John Milton wrote a pamphlet, to be distributed to members of Parliament, against a recently-enacted licensing law. In defiance of the law, the pamphlet was published without license. Using Biblical references and pointing out that the Greek and Roman civilizations didn’t license books, Milton argued, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable create [in] God’s image,” he told Parliament, “but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God.” He concluded his pamphlet with a plea, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

A century later, Sir William Blackstone, one of England’s foremost jurists and legal scholars, argued against prior restraint, the right of governments to block publication of any work they found offensive for any reason.

The arguments of Milton and Blackstone became the basis of the foundation of a new country, to be known as the United States of America, and the establishment of the First Amendment.

Every year, at the end of September, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Book Week, and publishes a summary of book challenges. And every year, it is made more obvious that those who want to ban books, sometimes building bonfires and throwing books upon them as did Nazi Germany, fail to understand the principles of why this nation was created.

[Walter Brasch was a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor before becoming a professor of mass communications, with specialties in First Amendment and contemporary social issues. His current book is the mystery novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the 1960s, and how issues unresolved during those years are affecting today’s society.]

         

Double Standards! The U.S. on Domestic vs. Global Internet Policy

( – promoted by John Morgan)

Just this month, the United States signed on to a Human Rights Council statement praising freedom of expression on the Internet, along with forty other countries across the world. The purpose of the statement is to emphasize how integral modern-day communications technologies are for the promotion of basic human rights.  You would naturally expect the United States, leader of the free world, to be a signatory — but can the recent slew of restrictive legislation being pushed through Congress allow the U.S. to support a globally open Internet in good faith??  Let’s take a look at the inconsistencies:
  • The HRC statement says: “We consider Government-initiated closing down of the Internet, or major parts thereof, for purposes of suppressing free speech, to be in violation of freedom of expression. In addition, Governments should not mandate a more restrictive standard for intermediaries than is the case with traditional media regarding freedom of expression or hold intermediaries liable for content that they transmit or disseminate.”
  • Yet, Senate Bill 978 — the "Ten Strikes Bill" — would make unlicensed online streaming (by corporations or individual Internet users) a felony punishable by 5 years in prison.

  • The HRC statement continues: “All users, including persons with disabilities, should have greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services, whether or not they are offered free of charge. In this context, network neutrality and openness are important objectives. Cutting off users from access to the Internet is generally not a proportionate sanction.
  • Yet, Senate Bill 968 — the PROTECT IP Act or "Internet Blacklist Bill" — would give the government the power to force Internet service providers, search engines, and other "information location tools" to block users' access to sites that have been accused of copyright infringement.
  • HRC: “For us, one principle is very basic: The same rights that people have offline – freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek information, freedom of assembly and association, amongst others – must also be protected online.”
  • But the Obama administration is facilitating a "three strikes" style deal between Internet Service Providers and intellectual property rights holders to reduce bandwidth and restrict web access to certain sites for users who have been accused of copyright infringement.

If you can’t stand for such hypocrisy on the part of the US government, sign our petitions below:

You can read the full text of the HRC statement here, as well as the UN report on pro-Internet freedom being praised here.

Burning the First Amendment

This is a column by contributing writer Walter Brasch:

Burning the First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

           “Got a match?”

           I didn’t know where he came from, but there he was, right behind me?as usual. “You know I don’t smoke,” I told Marshbaum. “Come to think of it, you don’t either. What’s up?”

           “Not much. Planning to roast some marshmallows and hotdogs. Burn some books.”

           “Marshbaum,” I commanded. “You can’t burn books.”

           “Sure I can. All I need is a match. See, first you?”

           “Burning books is against everything this country stands for.”

           “Not when the books are evil.”

           “Didn’t you ever read anything Jefferson wrote? Our country was founded upon the principle that all views must be heard.”

           “My view is that we’re going to burn some books to keep them from causing any more trouble.”

            I could have given Marshbaum a 30-minute lecture about how we no longer have a history of the pre-Columbian Aztec civilization because Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century destroyed the writings of one of the world’s greatest civilizations. I could have given him a few words from philosopher John Stuart Mill who stated, “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” Maybe a little wisdom from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who told us that democracy is best served in a “marketplace of ideas.” But, I knew Marshbaum was in no mood to hear philosophy. So, all I said was a sarcastic, “I assume you plan to burn everything you think is evil.”

            “Mooseburger Palin agrees with me,” said a smug Marshbaum.

           “Sarah Palin may be a lot of things,” I said, “but I doubt she believes in burning books.”

           “As mayor of Wasilla, she objected to some books in the library, and then fired the librarian who protested ham-handed attempts to censor books.”

           “Palin said she fired the librarian because of the librarian wasn’t loyal to her, and it had nothing to do with censorship issues.”

           “Believe that, and I’ll sell you a bridge to nowhere real cheap.”

           “She did rehire the librarian,” I said, “probably saw the error of her ways.”

           “Only after the whole town objected to the firing,” said Marshbaum.

           “Sarah Palin has some views that are a bit outside the mainstream America, but she didn’t ask that the books be burned.”

           “Didn’t have to,” said Marshbaum, “her church says it. Assembly of God churches regularly hold book burnings. Burned Elvis records in the ’50s and ’60s. Burned Harry Potter books this century. Pick out a book, CD, or video, and the Assembly of God probably condemned it to a fiery furnace.” From his knapsack, Marshbaum brought out a sheaf of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and press releases, all of which were about or from Assembly of God churches. “Pick one, any one,” he directed. Like a mark at a card magic show, I picked a flyer from one church in Butler, Pa. The pastor had asked the public to “Cleanse your house from ungodly items and idols. It’s time to deal with ungodly and demonic books, tapes, videos, statues and any other thing that gives demons the opportunity to traffic into your life.” The subsequent bonfire immolated Harry Potter, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Pinocchio.

           “Even if the Assembly of God is a book burner’s paradise, Palin is no longer a member,” I pointed out.

           “Not the point,” said Marshbaum. She was a member of the Wasilla Assembly of God for more than 25 years, and not once did she ever condemn the words of her own pastors or her church’s proclivity as literary arsonists. She still attends activities at the church, even attends an Assembly of God church in Juneau. Besides, just this past June she told the members, ‘It was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here.’ She thinks being a member of a church that burns books and whose current pastor believes that people who criticize George W. Bush will burn in Hell is coooool.” As a revelation, Marshbaum then screamed out, “As governor, she even named a street in Wasilla after the founding pastor.”

           “So, I assume you still want me to loan you a match,” I said, “even though you know burning books is wrong.”

           “Nah,” said a mischievous Marshbaum, “I’m just jerking you. I’m really going to light a candle for Mooseburger. Maybe God will forgive her trespasses.”

           Near the candle in whatever house of worship Marshbaum chooses is the spirit of John Milton who, in 1644, wrote: “as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills Reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye.” Milton’s writings became a base for the First Amendment to our Constitution.

           [Dr. Brasch is professor of mass communications at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores. You may contact him at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]