NIEZGODA: Banning books is a violation of freedom of information

Milwaukee Public Library bookshelves.

Milwaukee Public Library bookshelves.

Banned Books Week is an awareness week put on by the American Library Association in order to fight against censorship in our schools and libraries, specifically targeting the banning and challenging of books. Banned Books Week 2022 began Sept. 18, signaling an ageless fight to our intellectual freedom. 

Books are challenged and banned across libraries, school curriculums and bookshelves due to their thematic content such as violence, drug use, sexual themes and racism. A challenged book is a book that has been petitioned to be removed, whereas a banned book is one that has been removed. 

The attempt to ban books is typically not done by the federal government but an entire coalition of American people on a local scale. This includes school districts, government officials, libraries, retailers, publishers, institutions and various other organizations.

Regardless of the book’s status, challenging or banning is an infringement of our constitutional right to freedom of speech. Let’s have a vocabulary lesson: freedom means liberty. Whoever named the Mom’s for Liberty social activist group needs to read a dictionary.

The Mom’s for Liberty is a conservative activist group advocating for parental rights. The group recently petitioned for the removal of various books, including Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade” on the basis that it included violent content, satirical New Testament themes and sexual imagery. 

God forbid we teach about the horrors of wars and the expression of shame that our country should have regarding millions of children that have had their lives ruined due to war. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.” 

“SlaughterhouseFive” is not the only classic that has been banned and it is certainly not the last. Various other books includeOf Mice and Men”, “the Handmaid’s Tale”, “Speak”, “Lolita”, “1984”, “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl”, “The Giver”, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Brave New World” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. 

“To Kill a Mocking Bird” was challenged due to the elements of rape and the use of profanity, such as the “n-word.” Hanover County, Virginia called the book “immoral” in 1966.

Censorship is censorship regardless of any moral misgivings. 

Content that makes people uncomfortable demands to be learned and taught, as it emphasizes our need to progress as a society. Immorality is simply a viewpoint that we have constructed because we are uncomfortable with topics. These are the very topics that must be discussed. By banning and challenging books, we shut down those discussions.

According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, the three main reasons for the challenge of books include sexually explicit material, offensive language, and materials that are unsuited for the age group. I am not advocating for schools to give students “50 Shades of Grey”; I am advocating for students to read books that help them understand the world in a safe way. 

Despite this, the explicit content in question is not BDSM related, instead, it is aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. For Banned Books Week 2021, the three books that were challenged the most had sexually explicit all included LGBTQ+ content.

In 2019, eight out of 10 of the year’s most challenged books included LGBTQ+ content. These are the discussions that must be had. Communities’ voices and experiences are to be silenced if we do not advocate against censorship.

Whether it be violent content, sexual imagery or racial slurs, these books must be taught to begin discussions of race, sexuality and a broader understanding of what it means to be human. The importance is not solely reading these novels, but reading, understanding and criticizing.

It is shameful that in our free country, we have taught young people that their parents and schools have the right to act so uncivilized as to remove opinions they disagree with and do not understand.

Our democracy belongs in the bookshelves flooded with opinions and narratives that challenge us, not in the furnaces of schools. 

This story was written by Laura Niezgoda. She can be reached at laura.niezgoda@marquette.edu