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Banned Book Week

- September 23

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”

Salman Rushdie

"I don't want to be shut out from the truth. If they ban books, they might as well lock us away from the world."

Rory Edwards, 12, Washington Post

Banned Books Week - Celebrating the Freedom to Read was started by the American Library Association in 1981 in response to a growing number of attempts to ban books in public libraries across the country. It is promoted as a way to remind Americans not to take for granted their freedom to read all forms of the written word. First observed in 1982, it is celebrated during the last week of September each year.

Every year bookstores and libraries across the nation celebrate Banned Books Week with displays of and readings from books that have been banned or threatened throughout history. These works range from the Bible and Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series.

According to the American Library Association, each year its Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that have been "challenged," or asked to be removed from library shelves during that year. It is estimated that this is only a small portion of the real number of challenges presented. Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions, and for all sorts of reasons, have attempted-and continue to attempt-to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.

Topics of concern that most often institute challenges to written materials include sexually explicit material, offensive language, material inappropriate for the targeted age group, material with occult themes, violence, material that "promotes" homosexuality, "promotes" a religious viewpoint, nudity, sex education, and those materials that "promote" racism or anti-family viewpoints. Interpretations play a large role in what is labeled what. Books are usually challenged with the best intentions-to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. Challenges are also given because of the belief that material that promotes or even provides information on any of the above themes will further promote these actions and behaviors within the reader.

Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. Shielding other people-especially children-from difficult ideas only leads to ignorance, fear, and hatred. This stands in opposition to everything Freethought stands for, yet it has happened throughout the centuries for political and religious reasons, and has included books about atheism, science, tolerance, social issues, love and sex, and philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Aristophanes, Margaret Sanger, Mary Shelley, Ambrose Bierce, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Mark Twain and John Locke were all victims of censorship during their lifetimes and still face censorship in some sections of the world today, including Canada, the United States of American, Britain and many countries in Europe thought to be anti-censorship societies.

In today's world, Banned Books Week acts as a reminder that freedom is precious, and without constant diligence and defiance, it can be taken from us, even in the United States. If anything, it should motivate freethinkers everywhere to read banned books, discuss them, and protect the rights of all Americans to read what they want, when they want, in libraries across the country.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation of Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores, and is endorsed by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.


To assist in planning the week-long celebration, each year a Banned Book Week kit is developed. This kit includes three posters, 100 bookmarks, a button and a Resource Guide, which contains suggested activities and ideas for a celebration. Moreover, the Resource Guide contains an annotated list of challenged or banned books and is an excellent reference for conducting research on censorship. To find out more about the Banned Book Week kit click here.


For a Banned Books Week Press Kit click here.