Conservatives: Stifling intellectual discussion since Eden
By Samantha Schles
We all remember back in 2007 when everyone was talking about the so-called dangerous anti-religious film The Golden Compass. That controversy goes back a long time to its book version of the same name, written by Phillip Pullman.
“[The Golden Compass] isn’t just a book that promotes atheism. It denigrates faith—particularly Christianity,” said Kiera McCaffrey, spokeswoman for the Catholic League until 2008 in an interview with ABC News. “If there was a trilogy of books that were racist or anti-Semitic, we wouldn’t say ‘lighten up’ or ‘let’s let kids see another viewpoint.’”
But with this right to challenge books comes the danger of a tyranny of the intolerant minority who look to rid schools and public libraries of material they think push a questionable agenda.
Four of the top five books on the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2008 “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books” list were considered offensive because of their religious viewpoint, usually anti-religious, atheistic or Satanist, and three of the top ten featured homosexual characters.
That year also saw 513 challenges of books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, a branch of the ALA. Over the past eight years, the ALA has recorded 3,736 challenges of books—233 of which were challenged because of their religious viewpoints and 269 due to homosexuality.
His Dark Materials, the allegorical series that includes The Golden Compass and features an evil institution similar to the Catholic Church, has constantly appeared on the list. It currently stands at number two. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, sixth on the list, has been a target since its release in 2004 because it features a gay character.
Homosexuality and religion are two hot-button issues that go hand-in-hand in the book-banning craze. Members of Catholic and Christian advocacy groups are constantly trying to censor books with views that conflict with theirs.
But novels are not dangerous—what people do to them is; a banned book is a weapon. Conservatives use the power to challenge and ban books to prohibit other social groups from having a voice, but no one should have the ability to do this.
“Banning a book, or more accurately, making a book less easily accessible to children, may keep dangerous, destructive, deviant ideas and images out of the minds and hearts of children or delay the age at which they’re exposed to them,” posted Laurie Higgins, director of the Illinois Family Institute, an advocacy group for Christian ideals, on her blog.
But who has the right to decide what is “dangerous, destructive and deviant”?
In 2005, Rep. Gerald Allen (R-Ala.) thought he had this right when he proposed a bill to ban books by gay authors or book that feature gay characters. As LGBT life slowly seeps into society, we are also seeing more homosexuality in books, even in children’s books. Thankfully, that flimsy bill died automatically on the floor because of the lack of state legislators present to vote.
Had this kind of legislation passed, we would be silencing an entire group of people who are already marginalized.
“Censoring books by gay authors or that have gay characters can serve to further alienate LGBT members of a society, their families, loved ones and friends,” said Lis Maurer, program director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services at Ithaca College.“It also renders their lives, existence and contributions to society invisible to the majority population of the society as well.”
This is especially dangerous given our current position in political history. The advancement of LGBT groups and non-believer groups is dependent upon getting out their message now, when their bills and lawsuits are on the table. The right for homosexuals to marry won’t come any sooner if literature with gay themes and characters is being banned.
The fight against atheistic and anti-religion books is unfortunately just as strong. Rabid religious groups think that books with such messages are intolerant to those of faith. The only solution to groups like the Catholic League is to end intolerance with intolerance.
“Since there are so many books from which to choose, I think the truly respectful thing to do is choose books that do not offend the sensibilities and religious convictions of any of the diverse peoples who are subsidizing public education,” said Higgins of books offered in classrooms.
Hemant Mehta, creator of the blog The Friendly Atheist, got into a “blog feud” with Higgins over the issue of banning books. Mehta is a proponent of the idea that banning a book does more harm than good.
“Normally, when we hear of book-banning, the subject is a Christian parent who doesn’t want his/her children exposed to different ‘non-Biblical’ ideas, like sex or evolution,” wrote Mehta. “It’s ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous, though, is that they want these books kept away from all children, not just their own. That’s when I feel the need to fight back.”
If anything, people should be adding to the global discussion, not removing ideas. Let those of a conservative mindset publish their own books for their kids to read. Maybe an even playing field would be the best solution to end this battle.
Samantha Schles is a sophomore journalism major who wants to burn every copy of Harry Potter so she can save the children. And the world. Because magic is evil. Join her cause by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.