When I was a child, my mother began reading Harry Potter to my siblings and me. The first chapter alone drew me in with its vivid imagery — it was the first time a book had done something like that for me — and it was purely magical. The next night, however, she read from a different book and never touched Harry Potter again. When I asked her, years later, why she stopped, she looked around the room, leaned in to me, and said with a hushed voice, “It’s about witchcraft!”
Banning books does not protect the innocence of children, it does not prevent extremist ideas, it’s not even an issue of taste — it’s about censoring free speech. When a school, group or individual challenges or bans a book, the only thing they accomplish is strengthening the shadow of fear around the issue. For example, in 2012 the children’s book In Our Mothers’ House was challenged in Davis County, Utah. The book featured a multi-racial, lesbian couple and was purchased by the Davis School District in an effort to be inclusive of students who were being raised by two mothers. However, when the effort to ban the book completely failed, it instigated a witch hunt for other books that featured gay or lesbian characters.
One of the plays being produced by the U’s Theatre Department has a history of being challenged for similar complaints. “The Children’s Hour,” authored by Lillian Hellman, is a play about two female teachers accused of homosexuality by a student with a vendetta. The playwright insists that, “This is not a play about lesbianism, but about a lie.” How that lie builds and ruins the lives of the teachers is a testament to the power of fear-mongering, and it’s actually based on a true story. In a state where rallies are being held to insist that children must be raised by heterosexual couples, and lesbian teachers are expelled for their sexuality, surely we can see how banning information is a tool for organizations to instigate fear. Considering the play was written in 1934, it’s amazing how the question of whether LGBTQ+ individuals are a bad influence hasn’t been resolved.
Controlling political information is an additional aim of those who challenge books. “The Threepenny Opera” (based on “The Beggar’s Opera”) was banned by Hitler’s propaganda office because of its Marxist and socialist themes. This was an attack on Bertolt Brecht’s writing but also an attack on performing and audiences attending theatre. Banned book awareness extends to all types of information sharing: art pieces, lectures, news and the Internet. In countries where the Internet is censored, citizens find other avenues to communicate (i.e. Twitter and social media). Preventing access to information incites fear and hostility but also seems to breed resistance. “The Threepenny Opera,” which is also being produced by the U Theatre department, will open Nov. 7 at the Babcock Theatre.
The Marriott Library has many librarians who are interested in protecting your right to information and only refuse to tolerate child pornography and anything banned by federal law. According to the Library Bill of Rights (adopted by the American Library Association in 1939), “libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues” and “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” It’s not the library’s responsibility to ban books or access to information. Instead it is the responsibility of the reader to make their own decisions. Groups that manipulate readers to read or not read information of any kind are borderline fascist, which denies individuals the opportunity to think for themselves. When my mother was told not to read Harry Potter by her church leader, it was to prevent information that an individual saw as unfit to be read from being read. And although “witchcraft” is clearly a ridiculous theme to ban in the first place, history has demonstrated over and over again that those who control information control the population.
Today from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Library Plaza, there will be a banned books open reading. Students can read from their favorite banned book or just listen to other students read theirs. Because it is National Banned Book week, take this opportunity to read your favorite banned book and open this dialogue to your friends and family. Free speech is being protected by the American Library Association, and the least you can do is exercise that right.