Issue 100, Winter 2005/2006
We asked our Participating Organizations to contribute to Censorship News #100 by reporting on a topic of concern to their constituents. Below are a few responses that illustrate the wide range of censorship-oriented issues that the coalition is working to address.
From the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): Censorship in the academy assumes many guises. Alan Temes, an assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was apparently denied tenure after refusing to stop posting body counts of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens on the wall outside his office. Adjunct faculty member at Warren County Community College, John Peter Daly, had to resign after using his personal email to chide a conservative student for her pro-war views. Thomas Klocek, a part-time faculty member at DePaul University, was suspended after arguing with pro-Palestinian activists at a student event. Alan Merten, president of George Washington University, yielded to pressure from conservative state lawmakers and rescinded a contract for Michael Moore to speak on campus. Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss philosopher of Egyptian ancestry, was denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame University.
Academic freedom is arguably violated in each of these all too representative instances of censorship. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that academic freedom is a “special concern” of the First Amendment, the politics of place and time trump legal and ethical concerns, too often with impunity. AAUP co-founder Arthur Lovejoy called such acts of censorship “academic crimes,” yet these incidents routinely go unpunished, especially when the victims are part-timers, like Klocek and Daly, who enjoy few if any contractual rights; and when the perpetrators of the crimes are university presidents or the U.S. Government.
W.H. Auden reminds us, chillingly, of the substance of laws shifting relative to whoever holds power:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
— Roger W. Bowen
From the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA): ASJA launched its well-known “I Read Banned Books” campaign in 1981 – an initiative that sparked an annual national event: Banned Books Week, now in its 24th year under the sponsorship of ASJA and other groups.
And each year, we sell thousands of “I Read Banned Books” buttons to writers and bookstores all over the U.S., available at the online store of our Web site, www.asja.org.
While banned books may sound like an old-fashioned issue, our freedom to read remains under very real assault. Since 1990, the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded several thousand “challenges” – attempts by individuals or groups to get books removed from schools or libraries. Among the top targets of these self-appointed censors: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the Harry Potter series, Judy Blume’s novels, Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
And book censorship is only part of a larger problem. A record number of American journalists have been threatened with jail in recent years, simply for trying to do their jobs. They have been subpoenaed to federal courts and then held in contempt when they refuse to violate the traditional practice of protecting their sources. ASJA condemns these actions. We worked actively to promote the passage of Reporters’ Shield Laws in New York and other states, and we continue to support the passage of a similar law on the federal level.
— Brett Harvey
Executive Director, ASJA
From PEN American Center: In addition to direct attempts to suppress writings and silence writers in the United States and around the world, PEN is increasingly concerned with barriers that make it difficult for Americans to hear a full range of voices from outside of the United States, and with the failure of the United States to uphold basic human rights values it has long promoted internationally.
In 2004, we joined in a lawsuit challenging restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on the publication of literature from countries under U.S. trade embargos; that lawsuit resulted in new regulations that allow literature from these countries to be published without government approval. And this year, PEN and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against several U.S. government agencies for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for information on why several prominent scholars had been denied visas to visit this country. The suit challenges what appears to be a resurrected policy of “ideological exclusion” that is preventing critical voices from entering the United States.
At the same time, we are doing what we can to bring important international perspectives to U.S. audiences. Fewer than 1% of literary titles published in this country each year are translations from other languages, and even these few have trouble finding audiences. To counter this terrible imbalance in global literary exchange, we have launched a program to foster the publication of literature in translation in the United States, and last year we launched World Voices, an international literary festival that brought 85 writers from around the world to New York for a week of readings and debates (the second annual festival is scheduled for this coming April).
If Americans are hearing very little from the rest of the world, the world is hearing a great deal from the U.S., and much of it is undermining our credibility on human rights issues. Reports that the United States is now tied for sixth on the list of countries jailing journalists – five are being held without charge or trial in U.S. prisons in Guantanamo and Iraq – reverberate around the world, adding to the enormous risk journalists already run in countries hostile to press freedom. Reversing this erosion of freedom of expression and human rights protections in the United States is our most urgent concern. The PEN Campaign for Core Freedoms (www.pen.org) and the joint PEN/ALA/ABFFE/AAP Campaign for Reader Privacy (www.readerprivacy.org) are major initiatives that aim to restore essential freedom of expression and due process protections stripped by the USA PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 legislation, and to put an end to torture, arbitrary detention and extraordinary rendition.
— Larry Siems, Director, International
and Freedom to Write Programs, PEN
From the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS): Sex and censorship have been entwined in a bawdy and hideous dance since time immemorial. It reminds me of the film Steel Magnolias, where in one scene a rotund and girdle-less woman is dancing at a wedding and one of the main characters comments: “Looks like two pigs fighting underneath a blanket.” Fighting indeed.
But the twentieth century ushered in a series of revolutions in sexual mores, which has thrown off the blanket and forced us to face the beautiful reality that sex is a natural and fundamental part of each of us—with all the personal, political, and social implications that arise as a result. Nonetheless, today, we face perhaps the greatest challenge to sexual health in recent memory: the deliberate and calculated plan by social and religious extremists to censor all information about sex and sexuality that does not conveniently fit into the box of chastity before marriage and fidelity within it. Divorced? Lost a spouse? Gay, lesbian, or transgender? Too bad… you’re on your own. And you certainly can’t rely on the government, which has funneled over a billion dollars thus far into an experiment in hypermoralism in the form of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
NCAC has been a key partner in combating the forces of censorship that seek to create a generation of young people who are deliberately denied lifesaving information. Together, we are making progress, shining a light on the issue of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and arguing that first and foremost, these programs violate our rights as Americans and betray our Constitutional heritage.
— William Smith
VP for Public Policy, SIECUS
From the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): On January 17, the ACLU filed suit against the National Security Agency seeking to stop a secret surveillance program put in place shortly after September 11, 2001. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys, and non-profit organizations who frequently communicate with people in the Middle East. They have reason to believe that their communications are being intercepted, which disrupts their ability to talk freely with sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship, and engage in advocacy. The program has sparked international furor. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have condemned it.
The secrecy of the program means there is no way of knowing if everyone they communicate with (even inside the U.S.) is being listened in on or not. If you’ve talked to someone who’s talked to someone who may have talked to someone in the Middle East, your speech may not be so free. Learn more at: www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspyring.
— Emily Whitfield
Media Relations Director, ACLU
From The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE): As the bookseller’s voice in the fight against censorship, we work to protect the privacy of bookstore and library customers. In 2005, ABFFE supported a Connecticut librarian’s legal challenge to a National Security Letter (NSL) that seeks information about a patron’s use of a library computer. ABFFE joined librarians and publishers in filing an amicus brief in this ACLU case, and is involved in two other cases that focus on reader privacy: a challenge in Michigan to the constitutionality of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, and an effort to invalidate an NSL issued to an Internet service provider.
Since 2001, ABFFE has educated booksellers, the publishing community and the public about the impact of the PATRIOT Act, which eliminated crucial safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records. Our newsletter, ABFFE Update, regularly reports on the fight in Congress to add protections for reader privacy to the PATRIOT Act, amidst a push to re-authorize some sections that were due to expire at year’s end. Ultimately, Senators who favored additional privacy protections blocked a vote on re-authorization, forcing Republican leaders to accept a five-week extension for further negotiations.
— Chris Finan