By Katherine Peach
With ongoing debates concerning censorship and freedom of information raging constantly, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is celebrating free speech with the annual Banned Books week.
The sixth annual Banned Books Observance will be held at the First Baptist Church, 315 W. Michigan Ave. Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. The event will feature local talents reading selections of books banned from United States libraries.
Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read has been held every September since 1982. The American Library Association publishes an annual update to the list of challenged books. The week falls on Sept 29 to Oct. 4. The Banned Books week has been observed since 1982.
“Ignore your rights and they’ll go away,” said Jim Rodbard, an ACLU of Michigan representative. “The first amendment protects the right to make speech, but also to receive it.”
Among the guest readers this year are Kalamazoo writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, former WKZO personalities Dave Jaconette and Gerard MacLeod, Kellog Community College English professor Elizabeth Kerlikowske, WMMT meteorologist Keith Thompson and WKZO morning host Lori Moore.
People need to recognize the risks of the threat to the allowance of information in this country, Rodbard said.
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has received reports of offensive material for 15 years. Public schools, newspapers and libraries report complaints to the OIF. The ALA received 420 reports to remove a title from libraries and schools in 2007 alone. The ALA believes that only one out of every four complaints is actually reported.
“If we empower government agencies to make decisions about information individuals can receive, they will try to institute controls to not make access expansive,” Rodbard said. “Let the marketplace decide what should be read or not read.”
Rodbard stressed that the job of parents is to decide what their children are exposed to, not the voice of a few.
The content of books has been challenged since mass printing became a reality. Some of the top books challenged each year are titles such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Golden Compass” and “Catcher in the Rye.”
“You would be surprised on what is banned in this country, shocked maybe,” Rodbard said. “When we encounter this type of censorship we always fight it.”
The list of banned books is so long, it can start to resemble its own book.
“Harry Potter” has been beat up on one side and down the other, Rodbard said. According to the ALA, the
“Harry Potter” series is the number one banned book in the 21st century, due to the theme of witchcraft.
The goal of the ALA and ACLU is to get the word out.
The first observance held was a series of readings in front of a former book shop on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall. Over three lunch hours government workers, writers and students read as people walked by, inviting many to stop and listen.
Rodbard said that libraries and schools should have the right to regulate content on their shelves. He wants to spur dialogue about the impact of censored literature.
“We need to educate folks that, believe it or not, that books are banned in the 21st Century,” Rodbard said.