Focus on the Family contends ‘Banned Books Week’ a fraud

“Banned Books Week” is a fraud, according to Focus on the Family. The annual week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) to call attention to censorship. At a Sept. 24 press conference in Colorado Springs, Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family vice president of public policy, said, “This year’s ‘Banned Books Week’ is a fraud. Today we challenge the ALA to stop the name- calling, stop the hysteria, and stop receiving Americans through its promotion of a ‘book banning’ conspiracy theory.

“Focus on the Family analyzed the ALA’s list of “Books Challenged of Banned in 1995-96” and found that no books were banned from bookstores, and no books were banned from public libraries. Most of the cases of so-called “censorship” involved parents objecting to school material selection for children. For instance, one of the “censors” identified by the ALA was Dan Merlino, a father who objected to a horror story about cannibalism being read aloud to his third grade son.

“The ALA evidently doesn’t know what ‘censorship’ means,” said Minnery. “It is not ‘censorship’ when a parent raises an objection to certain material that is used in the classroom or when a teacher or school administrator makes selection decisions regarding what books to use in school.

“Mark Maddox, senior director of public policy for Focus on the Family, added, “This year’s ALA report is about rhetoric, not substance. Who is the true target of the ALA’s smear campaign? Parents and anyone else who dares exercise their First Amendment rights in expressing concern for the best interests of children.”

Minnery concluded, “We call upon the American Library Association to work for an atmosphere of civility and respect among parents, educators, and librarians — not hostility. We can ‘celebrate the freedom to read’ without intimidating or suppressing private citizens from exercising their First Amendment freedom of speech regarding educational standards for children.

“People for the American Way (PAW) beat the ALA to the topic on Sept. 4, when it released its annual survey of censorship. This year’s report expanded its definition of censorship to include efforts by conservative Christians to introduce prayer into public schools and to include teaching of creationism when evolution is taught. Though both prayer and creation are routinely censored in public schools, the liberal group’s report cited such efforts by Christian parents as efforts to “censor schools.”

“Actual censorship and attempts to censor have given way to broader assaults on the public schools,” said the group, which also cited school voucher efforts as a form of censorship. “Objections were leveled at classroom and library books, health and sexuality education programs, student newspapers and literary magazines, field trips, plays, school reform efforts, optional counseling services and more,” the report said.

Frequently challenged books included The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — which is often opposed by African-American organizations on racial grounds. PAW said “censorship attempts” were successful in 41 percent of the cases — down from the previous year’s high of 50 percent. Sexual content was the most common reason for challenging material, followed by offensive language. Religious reasons were involved in 18 percent of the cases. Kristin Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, dismissed the PAW report, saying, “Every year, it seems like an attempt to cry wolf and keep the parents out of schools. As a country, we need more parents involved.”

— E.P. News

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