By CYNTHIA L. CATES
Executive Director, Kosciusko Literacy Services
37 years have passed since the book burning in Warsaw and 41 years since John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” was banned in Syracuse.
Focusing on government ordered book burnings, Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451”, this year’s book selection for the community book read, was published in 1953. Yet, censorship remains an area of contention especially with information available on the internet. Bradbury wrote about a futuristic world in which the firemen no longer extinguish house fires, but set fires to burn books, because books have been outlawed. The state believed that people need entertainment and not insights, ideas, and the self-reflection that books provide. Books did not promote the equality of people and therefore, needed to be destroyed. Since different small groups always disliked different books, all books needed to be destroyed in order to promote societal equality and happiness.
In modern history, the reasons for banning books include books that contain sexually explicit material or offensive language, or books that are “unsuitable for anyone to read.” With the intentions that may include the protection of others, especially children, from problematic ideas and information, people or groups may challenge or want to ban books.
The American Library Association’s policy states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents, and only parents, have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children, and only their children, to library resources.” Therefore, librarians who censor constitutionally protected speech violate the First Amendment.
Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
The book burnings in Warsaw focused on two books. The textbook Values Clarification included topics of feminism, divorce, marijuana, and premarital sex. The other book Go Ask Alice dealt with drug abuse and contained profanity.
On Dec.15, 1977, the Senior Citizens Club burned 40 copies of Value Clarification in a parking lot ceremony. Teachers in the Warsaw Community Schools lost their positions.
The written word contributes to the culture of a society by providing an accessible, common point of reference. Reading remains the cornerstone of personal and societal freedom and liberty. The community book reads provide opportunities to find not only common ground, but also to discuss different points of view among neighbors and community members. Claiming that he graduated from the library rather than college, Ray Bradbury viewed books and characters in the books as his dear friends. Bradbury said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
Kosciusko Literacy Services invites the community to read The Big Read’s “Fahrenheit 451” and join book discussions and special events. Censorship on Trial, a panel discussion on censorship, will be the official launch of The Big Read at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 17 in the old Courtroom at Kosciusko County Courthouse.
Ray Bradbury biographer Sam Weller will be lecturing in Kosciusko County on April 15 and 16. Free copies of the book will be available at the six public libraries and at other locations. Visit www.kcread.org for details. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.