EVERY year, the list of books deemed threatening enough to require a ban from the shelves of schools and public libraries gets longer. Self-appointed guardians of morality can always be found haunting library aisles and school board meetings.
Someone has to monitor the books our kids are reading, they insist.
During the comment phase of public meetings, these guardians rush the microphones to sketch arcane theories about satanic mischief encoded in the pages of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. It's not enough that they prevent their own kids from reading these books; they want to deny other children and adults the opportunity, too.
Sometimes they're able to persuade people of good will to give in to their most censorious impulses and join their crusade. They argue that protecting children from disturbing passages in books trumps the First Amendment.
In response, the American Library Association annually celebrates the First Amendment by highlighting the latest books targeted for censorship during Banned Books Week, which ends tomorrow. Public readings of controversial books are held at libraries, bookstores, and schools to point out the danger that banning books entails for our democracy.
It isn't just Judy Blume's novels and Captain Underpants that self-appointed censors want to keep out of libraries. The list of banned reading material is long and filled with distinguished titles, from Slaughterhouse-Five and Beloved to The Catcher in the Rye and The Grapes of Wrath.
Banned Books Week is a reminder that we shouldn't take our liberties for granted. Unfortunately, some Americans would sacrifice the First Amendment to keep new ideas and unconventional thought hidden away.
That's why books continue to be banned from rural schools in Mississippi to libraries in northern California. In a country where books are banned routinely, freedom of expression will be only a theory.