Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Banned Books: A History

Just a little reminder that student's freedom to read is delicate.. Would our new Supreme Court uphold this ruling?

A Case of Censorship

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Island Trees v. Pico that books could not be banned in public or school libraries simply because they contained controversial content. The controversy started in 1975 when the Island Trees School Board attended a conference held by the conservative Parents of New York United. At the conference, PONYU listed several books commonly stocked in public libraries it deemed objectionable.

Following the conference, the school board issued a directive that certain books be removed from school libraries. In the Supreme Court decision, the school board was quoted as saying these books were "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy."

Steven Pico, a high school student at the time, along with four other students, sued the school board in U.S. District Court.

"In school, year after year, I had been told how books were banned in communist countries and burned in Nazi Germany," Pico said in a speech to the Missouri Association of School Librarians, according to Herbert N. Foerstel's book "Banned in the U.S.A."

"I could not believe that it was happening in the United States in the 1970s."

The District Court ruled in favor of the school board. Upon Pico's appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sent it back again for trial.

Rather than face trial again, the board appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In 1982, the High Court ruled in favor of Pico and the other students. In a 5-4 decision, the court said that the board could not intentionally "deny … access to ideas with which petitioners disagreed."

In his speech to the school librarians, Pico said he was sad none of his teachers offered him support. "Only one of my teachers ever commented to me about the book banning," he said. "One day after class, she whispered to me, 'Steve, you're doing the right thing.' I will never be able to forget that she felt the need to whisper."