This Is Why We Celebrate Banned Books Week

This is librarian James Klise‘s take on why he loves celebrating Banned Books Week:

I support any person’s right to read anything he or she chooses. In my own library each year, we celebrate Banned Books Week with a showy shelf display and signs encouraging students to check out a “banned book.” In doing so, I trick students into reading my favorite classics, like “Native Son,” “The Color Purple” and “Catch-22.”

I confess, my colleagues and I have approached Banned Books Week with a lighthearted attitude — we use markers to draw dramatic flames on the signs — because our community is exceptionally diverse. Among its many clubs, the school has a popular Gay Straight Alliance, which I advise, along with a Hispanic Honor Society and a Muslim Culture Club.

The faculty and staff at my school work hard to make sure that every student feels respected, included and empowered. As such, the notion of censoring books seems literally foreign to us.

That is awesome. I love the fact that the faculty and staff members at his school are working together to encourage students to read books, including ones that some adults think are wrong for them just because they feature bad language, unpopular ideas, or “adult” themes. Evil, evil books like The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series and Heather Has Two Mommies.

Guess who’s not happy about that?

Guess who’s taking Klise’s words completely out of context?

Guess who thinks banned books that feature positive portrayals of LGBT people are somehow bad for children?

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute:

Moreover, in recent years, most of the controversies over picture books have involved the relentless efforts of homosexual activists and their allies to change the moral beliefs of other people’s children. Embedding sexually subversive ideas in soft focus or cartoony picture book illustrations does not render them less subversive. It renders them more insidious.

No adult — at least no mature adult — believes that five-year-olds have a “right to read anything” they choose. And any adult who actually does believe such a feckless notion should not be a librarian, teacher, or parent.

Klise, of course, wasn’t talking about five-year-olds. He’s not suggesting students tackle books that they aren’t mature enough to handle. But there’s no doubt that parents can overreact when it comes to what topics they want their kids exposed to. Especially conservative Christian parents.

The moral beliefs that “homosexual activists” (and people like me) want to push are those of tolerance and acceptance.

Higgins and her ilk want to push bigotry and exclusion.

That’s the reason they’re losing the war.

Perhaps we could have a real debate on the age-appropriateness of certain books. But that’s never what these battles are really about. They’re about censorship. If a book discusses sex or drugs (not necessarily in positive ways), a lot of parents want it banned. If it portrays a lesbian couple in a loving relationship, they want it banned. If it uses a bad word or two, they want it banned.

Higgins’ solution is for librarians to include books that offer, among other things, “conservative views on the nature and morality of homosexuality.”

How about requesting novels for teens that show the suffering that results from the sexual promiscuity prevalent among the male homosexual community? How about requesting novels that depict the pain children feel because their “gay” dads don’t believe that sexual exclusivity is part of “marital” fidelity or monogamy? How about requesting novels that show the pain that results from the high levels of domestic abuse and instability within many lesbian relationships? How about requesting novels that show the pain some children may feel over being deliberately deprived of either a mother or father?

Not every controversial issue has two legitimate sides. Books that promote bullying or the idea that there’s something wrong with children because they like people of the same gender isn’t a value any school ought to be promoting. If you want to pass along that warped sensibility to your children, so be it. But those are beliefs are society ought to eradicate, not promote.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Sindigo

    What, don’t the schools have bibles in the library? Doesn’t that book count as one that promotes a conservative moral viewpoint and has been banned?

  • Quintin

    Why not? Because they’re not “banned”. For some reason, people who don’t like such themes don’t want them banned.

  • Gavin Deichen

    So there aren’t any books that portray promiscuity in the “male homosexual community”(?!!)

  • Spamamander

    So does that mean we need to promote books where one heterosexual spouse cheats on the other? Because by the numbers a LOT more kids would be experiencing that in their lives than a same-sex marriage dealing with infidelity. Actually, gee, it seems like we should just have some generic “helping to cope” books for kids and teens grappling with family issues, but that wouldn’t demonize same sex couples enough I suppose. Then again, I’m one of those horrible parents that figured if my child was interested enough to really sit down and read something then they probably were ready to read  it, and I would be there to answer questions.

  • Christopher Blackmore

    I agree with you, but as you say at the end, there are books that go too far. revolting little book explains how to train a baby by whipping it very painfully until it obeys orders instantly without question. The act is illegal in the UK. Selling the book is clearly conspiracy to get people to carry out torture of children, also illegal. Yet Amazon refuse to drop it, on the gounds that it constitutes free speech.

  • Agnostic

    If five year olds can decide for themselves what they should read they should also be able to make their own living and support themselves. They don’t need parental guidance anymore.

  • machintelligence

    But what are we to do about Mark Twain’s  “Huckleberry Finn”?  I read that one in high school for an English class, by the way. I really am that old.

  • A3Kr0n

    I’m surprised she doesn’t want to bible banned because if kids read it they’d see that it’s mostly bullshit.

  • LouisDoench

    How about requesting novels that show the pain that results from the high levels of domestic abuse and instability within many lesbian relationships?

    Something tells me that Ms. Higgins may be overestimating the volume of material available in the “dysfunctional homosexual relationship” sub-genre.

  • ortcutt

    American attitudes on banning books are changing through generational replacement.  Older Americans who by-and-large support such bans are dying out and being replaced by younger people who don’t share that view.

    Percentage of Americans 66 and older who support banning books from school libraries that discuss witchcraft and sorcery:  62
    Percentage of American 18-34 who support banning books from school libraries that discuss witchcraft and sorcery: 26

    I know they don’t want Jesus to have competition from other magicians, but that’s pretty ridiculous.  We probably all laughed and rolled our eyes when people tried to have Harry Potter banned in schools, but many Americans, including a majority of old Americans, support just that sort of ban.  Let’s all be thankful that in 20 years many of them will be in the grave.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Yup, that would be reasonable. As soon as someone suggests that 5-year-olds should be able to, then I’m sure you’ll be ready for it.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Hey, how books about the violent history of religion and its use today as a way to suppress the masses? How about a book about how Christians feel that they are better than everyone else?

    Or how about books about taking things out of context and making assumptions? 

  • Anhaga1

    I agree with you all the way to:

    ‘Not every controversial issue has two legitimate sides. Books that
    promote bullying or the idea that there’s something wrong with children
    because they like people of the same gender isn’t a value any school
    ought to be promoting. If you want to pass along that warped sensibility
    to your children, so be it. But those are beliefs are society ought to
    eradicate, not promote.’

    Who decides whether a “side” to an issue is “legitimate”?  I expect Laurie Higgins thinks there’s only one legitimate side to a whole range of issues and you and I would disagree with her.  Suggesting that society ought actively to eradicate certain  beliefs is sounding too close to banning books for comfort.

  • Jim Baerg

    Sometimes the evidence is overwhelming in favor of one side, so the other side is no longer ‘legitimate’. Eg: geocentrism hasn’t been a ‘legitimate’ position in astronomy for centuries.

    On moral issues, one can accumulate evidence that one position causes enormously more harm than good & thus it becomes ‘illegitimate’, eg: pro-slavery.

    Certainly there needs to be a high burden of proof for declaring a position to be ‘illegitimate’, but I think my examples show it can be met.

  • Brian Westley

    Not a first edition, I hope.

  • John Small Berries

    The Utah Valley University library posted on their Facebook page the question “We’re celebrating banned books week. What book would you ban and why?“After someone denounced the question in the comments, they defended themselves with “Actually,
    that’s the sort of comment we were hoping to inspire. This question is
    meant to spur discussion about why people ban books.”So… post a question which invites ignorant responses and wait for a commenter to make the point that you were hoping someone would make, instead of just making the point yourself? What an interesting rhetorical strategy.

  • MargueriteF

    Yeah, probably the only publishers who’d be interested in novels showing how evol gay relationships are would be Christian publishers. But they’re also the publishers who wouldn’t dream of depicting gay relationships at all. It’s a bit of a Catch–22– it’s hard to write a novel showing how evol a particular sort of relationship is if you can’t actually write about the relationship in the first place.

  • ortcutt

    If you didn’t want to support a child, you shouldn’t have fathered or borne a child.  Your obligations to support that child are independent of any rights that child might have to a suitable education.  Your statement sounds a lot like those men who claim “If my wife doesn’t want to be beaten, she can make her own living and support herself.”  Sorry, but the a spouse’s support obligation isn’t conditional on subjugation and a parent’s support obligation to a child is no more conditional on subjugation.

  • Megathon

    I find it very interesting that some conservative parents are so concerned about their children reading books that present or promote acceptance and/or differing viewpoints.  It’s as if the parents know that their 15 years of indoctrination can be completely undone by their child simply reading a book.  It says a lot about the weakness of their belief system.

  • Holytape

     Well what about witchcraft like raising the dead, walking on water or turning water into wine? I’m sure that they would be fully supportive of banning those books as well.   Harry Potter might be a lot of things, but at least he’s not a pig-killing, fig-hating necromancer who in a surprise twist in the plot turns out to be a zombie as well.

  • TCC

    If five-year-olds can dress themselves, they should be able to serve in the military.

    Wait, we were playing “Nonsensical Hypotheticals,” weren’t we?

  • TCC

    Yeah, I was wondering what novels would even portray LGBT individuals in such a negative light. Does Jack Chick publish novels (well, graphic novels) yet?

  • Mandocommando23

    I’d like to see where she got her information about the ills of same-sex relationships. Furthermore, as fundamentalist Christians have the highest divorce rate perhaps there should be books covering that issue.

  • Hayley

    I’m a public librarian, and I fully support a kid reading whatever they want, no matter their age. My parents never censored what I was allowed to read (though admittedly, they probably weren’t aware of some of the books I read from our home collection…), and I did not turn out to be a horrible person. In my experience, professionally and personally, if a child picks up a book they aren’t ready to read, it won’t interest them and they will stop reading it in favor of something that *does* interest them. Kids are much better at choosing topics to learn about than people give them credit for.

  • ortcutt

     It’s pretty clear that even as early as when the Pauline epistles and Acts of the Apostles were written, Christians were worried that Jesus would be seen as just another magician and faith healer.  So, we get Acts trying desperately to distinguish Jesus from others like Simon Magus.  Regardless, it’s hard to read the Gospel of Mark and not come away with a picture of Jesus as a itinerant magician/faith-healer.

  • Holytape

    Wait, is that question hypothetical or rhetorical? 

  • Joeclark77

    So, we loved “banned” books, which really were never banned, and which are absolutely mainstream in the cultural trends of today (for crying out loud, most of our mothers are reading “50 shades of gray”)… but when it comes to ideas YOU don’t like, “…those are beliefs are society ought to eradicate, not promote.”

  • C Peterson

    There are no books that go too far to be banned. Good for Amazon; when publishers become the ones deciding what is acceptable, as opposed to readers, we’re all in trouble.

  • ortcutt

     If it has an “if” in it, it’s hypothetical.

  • Drew M.


  • Phil

    Good grief.  Hasn’t that drama hag gotten over her sanctimony yet.  She talks about five-year olds being able to read anything they want.  Most kids that age can’t read at all yet.  What an idiot.

  • Arthur Byrne

    Looking at the GSS, it looks like there’s a threshold at about 1945. Support for banning various types of books (LIBMIL, LIBATH, LIBHOMO, LIBRAC, LIBCOM) declines in cohorts to that point, but then mostly plateaus among those born after. Within generational cohorts, attitudes vary slightly depending on what type of book is considered, but attitudes don’t seem to shift much over time.

    The most recent example added to the question set is LIBMSLM, for an anti-American muslim book (asked in 2008 and 2010).  The bad news is there is a lot more willingness to censor in that case, across all cohorts.

  • Archaeopteryx1861

    I was such an avid bookworm that my middle school librarian would have me read any “questionable” newly arrived books before shelving them to see whether I thought my fellow 7th and 8th graders could handle them, or whether to forward them up to the high school. I felt that the biography of a circus elephant that feature graphic depictions of elephant sex and human romp times was fine, but the fantasy book featuring a violent rape-ending-in-murder where the killer then wipes his “seed” off of his victims thighs afterwards…, let that one go to the high school. So, I guess the moral of this story was that rather than censoring outright, my librarians asked the opinions of a mature child actually of the age group in question, and then shelved the books appropriately. I look back on that method with great appreciation. 

  • Archaeopteryx1861

    I laugh at these bans on Harry Potter, because what the parents don’t seem to know is that there are TONS of other books involving witches, etc. Heck, look at “The Egypt Game” which was about a group of kids pretending to be from ancient Egypt and WORPSHIPPING GODS other than Jesus. Holy crap, that stuff was totally blasphemous.

  • Archaeopteryx1861

    That one gets banned from both sides…from the conservative side that doesn’t like the depiction of racial relations, AND from the liberal side, which doesn’t like the use of the N-word. 

  • Archaeopteryx1861

    Agreed. The only appropriate way to “ban” books is to hope that people already know that the books are wrong, don’t buy them, and then the publisher puts it out of print.

  • Archaeopteryx1861

    Last I checked, most/many public schools DO have the Bible in the library, alongside the Quran and other religious tracts. They’re part of literary history.

  • L.Long

    Twain says it best…..

    Censorship is telling a man he can’t have steak because a
    baby can’t crew it.  

    I remember when Tarzan was banned because the idiot xtian librarian said it was immoral because Tarzan was living with a woman not his wife and they had a kid.
    Turns out she never read the book but was going by a memory of the movie!!!!!

    I have to say thanks to my mom as a devote catholic she never put limits on what we could or could not read.


  • Tainda

    My parents were the same way.  I read Flowers in the Attic when I was in middle school lol  That series is just gross at times.

  • Ixoreus

    I took my daughter to our local library several times a week.  We started celebrating Banned Books Week when she was quite young as a result of an encounter with a group of people protesting books on sexuality.    My daughter had reached the age when she wanted explanations for the things she observed — why is fire hot, how do babies get inside the Mommy — I think she was four.  We were in the library looking for a book that would explain the second question.   There are many books, appropriate for a four-year old,  on just this subject.   These were the very books the protesters wanted removed from the library.   When a woman came up to us and told me I should not allow my daughter to read the book she was holding,  my daughter had a new question — why can’t I read this book?  Needless to say a new family tradition was born.    Each year, during Banned Books Week, we selected a book to read as a family.    Many wonderful discussions were sparked.  As a parent I found this to be an effective way to talk about issues, values, problems and situations.   I highly recommend banned books to other parents who want to raise healthy, happy children.

    Laurie Higgins may believe I am an unfit parent (can I sue her for libel and slander?)  because I do believe a five year old should (and my child was) allowed to read any thing she chose. 

  • Golfie98

    They also seem to have problems speaking out against established literature such as Lord of the Rings – easily as much magic and necromancing as Harry Potter, maybe more so, and even darker. Maybe it was too hard for them to read.

  • Richard Wade

    I’ve had the privilege of being married to a public librarian for 40 years, and I can say that public librarians are the most stalwart guardians of your freedom to read whatever you want to read. 

    Every day, across the “Land of the Free” people walk into public libraries to complain about some book that they find objectionable, and they demand that it be taken off the shelf. The librarian politely and patiently recites their policy about freedom of public access, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, and they explain that the book cannot and will not be removed.  Then after the complainers leave in a huff, the librarians make a notation on a list of  “challenged” books, and once a year they send the list to the American Library Association. Each year, they publish lists of the most challenged and the most banned books.

    Because books do get banned, not just challenged.

    A book can be removed from the shelf or not even included in the collections of privately owned libraries, libraries of private schools and colleges, and sadly even from public libraries. These are usually small libraries owned by small towns where the mayor or city council has an iron grip over the collection’s content. Very often they don’t even hire a qualified librarian to run the library, because a librarian is likely to resist any attempt at censorship. They use clerks who know that their job depends on complying with the mayor’s or city council’s orders.

    Usually these cases quietly go on unchallenged for years, and the only way to reverse them is through threat of a lawsuit, or an actual lawsuit.

  • Don Gwinn

    I think that Twain quote is new to me.  That’s a great one.

  • Don Gwinn

    What you’re doing here is the right way to “ban” that book.  Just tell people what’s in it and why (if necessary) that’s repugnant.  
    “You can read it if you want, but it’s a book about whipping children to frighten them into obeying you for fear of further abuse.  Starting with babies.  There, now you don’t need to read it; you know what Pearl wants you to do.  Now you just have to decide whether it makes sense to spank babies with rods.”

  • Don Gwinn

    I happen to have a five-year-old son and twin 16-year-old boys.  I’ve noticed that there are key differences between the two age groups.  Frankly, my five-year-old seems to view *Catch-22* and *The Catcher in the Rye* with about equal apathy.  It’s almost like he’s not interested at all.

    Anyway, the standard response to anyone who says “How come there’s not a book about what *I* think books should be about?” is simple:
    “You seem like you speak pretty good English.  Write the book you want to read.  If it’s any good, chances are that other people will read it.  If it’s not, you’ll know why there aren’t more books about that idea.”

  • Edmond

    Not only that, but such books would have to be banned first, before being considered for inclusion in this event.  Perhaps Ms. Higgins could write some herself, then ban them herself, and THEN encourage kids to read them during Banned Book Week.

  • John Gills

    I had an ‘Ah Ha’ moment about Banned Books, when I wondered if there were books I might want banned. 

    It wasn’t easy, but I ultimately came to believe in “No banned books” even though there are undoubtedly titles out there I would find reprehensible,  perhaps  ‘How to Build a Car Bomb’ and ‘The Klan Welcomes Little Jamie.’ 

    I agree with the many commentators here who’ve said we need to be ready to openly discuss and evaluate whatever books come along.

  • Coyotenose

     Not that this negates anything you wrote, but when I was in the seventh grade, I checked out books from the local *public* community college, some on religion, some supernatural fiction. The *public* school librarian, principal, and vice-principal were told about my reading material by snitty little shits my age, and brought me in to yell at me about going to church. I didn’t have any clue how to defend myself, though I yelled back. They confiscated the books I had with me. I didn’t know at the time how to defend myself against that either.

    They then got rid of those books, and looked up and got rid of every book I’d checked out of the public school library.  Then they went to the public college and got every book I’d checked out removed from the shelves. Then they went to the town public library and did the same. That means those librarians were complicit also.

    Note that they apparently didn’t talk to my parents about it. But they did sneak notes into my school record so that when I reached high school, the admins and guidance counselors were “warned” about me.

  • Coyotenose

     If the best you can do is to be offended that Hemant criticized sanctioned bullying of children even unto their deaths and thinks that society at large should criticize sanctioned bullying of children even unto their deaths, I feel very sorry for you.

  • Coyotenose

    Consider that his specific example of an illegitimate side to an issue is sanctioned bullying of children for their birth circumstances or perceived circumstances, in the context that Higgins advocates sanctioning such bullying when it causes the deaths of children.

    He did not imply the use of force to eradicate such ideas. Was actively denouncing racism during the Civil Rights movement too close to banning books?

  • Coyotenose

     Why not what?

  • Tainda

    Wow, that’s ridiculous.

    I live in a small conservative town and even our library has a sign that says “If you don’t find something offensive here, please let us know and we will remedy that”

  • joeclark77

    Even by the standards of straw men, that’s not even a good straw man.  What I find humorous is that the postmodernist/leftist young people love the idea of “banned in Boston” so much that it has become a marketing slogan that makes them want to read books that little old ladies consdier entirely mainstream and were never actually in any danger of being banned.  But the same postmodernist/leftist youths cry out for the obliteration of ideas and books that disagree with them… without a smidgen of irony.

  • Tardis_blue

    I asked at our library about banned books week and this is exactly the kind of thing they told me is keeping them from participating.  We have an incredibly diverse community, and the library is pretty liberal with the materials they stock; you can find just about anything in there, and I guess they don’t want to draw undue attention to that fact.

  • Sindigo

    Exactly. So what’s she complaining about?

  • Richard Wade

    Wow is right. That’s sad to hear that a public librarian would participate in such a thing. It does happen sometimes.

    Think about it this way, Coyotenose:  You as a seventh grader had intimidated the hell out of several adult school administrators and professionals so much that they for some reason felt compelled to purge your reading list from their shelves and be forewarned and forearmed against you.

    Portents of your power yet to come, perhaps.

  • Lynch Gerard

    Lol, please, get honest: this is not what your faith teaches. The appeal you make is Christian in nature and antithetical to Isalm. If, Hemant, you can tolerate vile accusations against Mohammed with a smile and a prayer for that poor ignorant soul, great, yet that defies, not falls in line with, the tragically and grossly immature beliefs of Islam. Blasphemy deserves mercy, blasphemy means death: chose. In that choice is decided a place for the viability of belief. Your nery is not the choice of your faith. 

    There is simply no such thing as freedom of speech for a Muslim; to accept that tenet for a Muslim, is a license to commit an intolerable blasphemy or heresy that demands death and have no consequences. Retrofit Islam here, to fit in and not be overly persecuted, is a mere tactic and not an adaption.

    The gross immaturity of the the Idlamic faith is a pure and simple mental disorder

  • Lynch Gerard

    From my understanding, Catcher in the Rye was considered the most dangerous book.
    I stand at the edge of this topic,  not really centered or unbiased, yet the forces of nature take me, depositing me on a happy shore of catch-success” Yikes

  •!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

     There are POSITIVE passages that include rape & incest (amongst others) in the Bible & Koran, yet these books somehow get a pass from these bigots,  this is just another example of hypocrisy. IMO even the nicest people that hold Theistic views/opinions have lives based on hypocrisy & any attempt to point it out is met with (understandable) defence. How would i feel if i was made to admit my whole life was based on lies? Although it can get me riled up i try & “get” that not everyone is brave.

  • Sindigo

    Well, when I had to admit that my life was based on lies I stopped going to church. Although admitting that is probably easier when your life only consists of ~11 years. ;)

  • Twain Rocks

    Twain was a man born out of his time. He was a brilliant mind and wrote the quintessential American novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

    The fact that the right wants it banned because it deals with race issues of the day and the left wants it banned because Twain wrote in the language of the day and one of the main characters is “Nigger Jim” is horrible. 

    When the left went to publish revised editions so that Nigger Jim became “Jim” or “Slave Jim” there was enough friction in Twain’s grave from his spinning so hard it generated enough heat to cause a forest fire.

    This is akin to painting a larger smile on the Mona Lisa so no one feels sad when they pay a visit to the Louvre.

  • Coyotenose


  • Coyotenose

     Heh, not much power here, but that was inspirational nonetheless. Thank you.

  • Coyotenose

    Jeebus, that early in life? Well done.

  • Coyotenose

     My description is EXACTLY what you were saying in your last sentence, thanks. Try again, preferably after actually looking up the definition of “straw man” and reading the actual words to which you responded without your Jingoistic Martyr Glasses on.

    I’m sorry that you don’t grasp the use of language and how one can call for evil ideas to be marginalized by criticism without actually demanding that harm be done to those that hold them, or how “book banning”  in the U.S. usually means that authoritarians take steps to make them inaccessible and to socially and financially harm the authors, rather than large scale legislation.

    I’m doubly sorry that you’re saying that those two things are magically equivalent in order to soothe your Leftie-hate for the day. And triply so that you seem to be totally ignorant of the history of book banning in this country and yet are talking about it anyway as if it was somehow an imaginary construct that you can demolish with ignorance.

  • Sindigo

    Thanks. I’m 35 now and, to be honest I was probably a huge pain in the ass. I suspect they were happy to see the back of me at Sunday school. Also, the very liberal, ‘tea with the vicar’ church of England congregation that we attended was pretty easy to leave.

  • TheBlackCat

    I think you could reduce that to just “What?”

  • TheBlackCat

    The really ironic thing is that Harry Potter teaches that you have to be born with magic powers, and it should be obvious to them if they are, so if kids actually believed Harry Potter it would discourage them from trying to take up witchcraft.

  • TheBlackCat

    I use it.