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[EDITORIAL] Banning books is First Amendment violation

Following the Wildcat Chronicle’s coverage of Banned Books Week earlier this month, the editorial board weighs in on the subject of censorship, and applauds Illinois for seeking to ban book banning.
The+Wildcat+Chronicle+Staff+takes+a+stance+on+the+act+of+book+banning+following+Banned+Books+Week+2023%2C+and+Illinois+decision+to+stop+censoring+books.
Photo by Emily Ziajor
The Wildcat Chronicle Staff takes a stance on the act of book banning following Banned Books Week 2023, and Illinois’ decision to stop censoring books.

Harper Lee did it. So did George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, William Golding, Mark Twain, and Angie Thomas. 

They all wrote a piece of literature that is now being questioned due to its controversial themes.

The first-ever book to be banned in the United States in 1637 in Quincy, Massachusetts, was the New English Canaan, which was considered harsh and heretical. Most of the earliest book bans were encouraged by religious leaders, particularly Catholic leaders, in order to protect followers from material the clergy deemed immoral or blasphemous. 

Book banning, however, is a violation of the First Amendment. This form of censorship, which is becoming all the more common across the United States, prevents the freedom of speech. While those who support book banning may claim to do so in the name of education, the banning of books is actually a means of suppressing students’ access to education.

Let’s be honest: those behind the book bans are from the far-right, and these individuals and/or groups have the financial backing to declare war on books from school libraries that allegedly “too liberal”: these are stories that teach children to accept people of all races, sexual orientations, races, and backgrounds. Certain groups, like Moms for Liberty, and politicians like South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, deem that this content is inappropriate for children and could possibly influence them in a negative way – because open-mindedness is most definitely dangerous. In Missouri last month, a candidate for the office of governor burned a bunch of cardboard and said if elected, he would burn any “woke” books as well.

Unfortunately, when it comes to book banning, rumors and false narratives run rampant, which is perhaps why “in 2022, attempts to ban books doubled from 2021 with 1,269 attempts to ban 2,571 unique titles,” according to the American Library Association, which tracks book banning attempts. For example, Jenni White of The Federalist claims that schools are “forcing” children to “read smut”, while any novels that would “make students feel ‘guilt or anguish’ for past actions committed by their race” are not permitted in the state of Florida, where the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” is in effect.

Those who support book banning believe parents have the right to control what material their children are exposed to. According to White, Kim Heinecke, a mother of four from Edmond, Oklahoma, wrote to her local Superintendent of Public Schools that “It is not a matter of ‘sheltering’ kids. It is a matter of guiding them toward what is best. We are the adults. It is our job to protect them – no matter how unpopular that may seem.”

Others, including the staff of the Wildcat Chronicle, disagree.

“You should be free to read anything you want. [Those who support banning books] shouldn’t be able to tell other parents and other kids what they can and can’t read,” librarian Candace Barry said. 

One of the biggest reasons that books have become banned is a result of the allegedly “harmful” material that parents suspect their children may be exposed to in school or a public library. This “exposure” could potentially influence their children’s livelihood, and sway them in some manner. One of the most common examples brought up in this regard is the presence of homosexuality or queerness in modern literature. In addition, violence and foul language may pose a bad example for the youth in presented in books.

But, sheltering children from this content is not the answer, and nor is banning books. Homosexuality is – in no way – caused by an external influence. Violent literature does not prompt violent behavior. And foul language is nothing students do not hear on a daily basis.

Those who wish to ban books are attempting a form of control.

“We are protecting your right to have a choice,” LRC Clerk Skyler Blue said.

Those concerned about the content in literature should focus their attentions on adding age recommendations – a similar concept to that of the movie rating system – instead. However, material should never be banned to anyone based on age. Ultimately, this nation was founded on the idea of freedom, and that freedom – outlined in the First Amendment – extends most definitely to access to literature, and that is precisely why the Wildcat Chronicle supports Illinois’ effort to ban book banning in January 2024.

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About the Contributor
Emily Ziajor
Emily Ziajor, Multimedia Manager
Emily Ziajor is a WEGO senior in her second year of journalism. She attended the National High School Journalism Convention last November, and thoroughly loved the experience. She is a Polish-American (she finished her final year of Polish School in the spring of 2023) with a creative soul and high aspirations. When it comes to writing, she has a sharp imagination, and one of her true passions is photography. Emily is a multi-year member of the AV Club at West Chicago Community High School.
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