NEW YORK – The National Coalition Against Censorship defends the freedom to write, publish and read books. Therefore, we strongly support Penguin Random House’s decision to publish a book by Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. At a time when challenges to books in schools and libraries are at record highs, it is deeply ironic that hundreds of people in the publishing industry are calling on a publisher to cancel the release of a book.
In a letter to the company, signatories deny that they are trying to censor the book–that they “care deeply about freedom of speech.” But they argue that Coney Barrett violated international human rights when she voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and therefore should be denied the opportunity to publish with a major publisher and receive a large advance. They also claim that Penguin Random House is supporting a violation of human rights by publishing her book. “We…believe it is imperative that publishers uphold their dedication to freedom of speech with a duty of care,” they write.
Of course, the signers of the letter are entitled to their opinion. But is their goal any different than what the book banners are seeking? Moms for Liberty and the other conservative activists are pressing for teachers and librarians to exercise a “duty of care” to protect children from “dangerous” books that address racial oppression and speak about the lives of LGBTQ people. Both groups are seeking to suppress ideas that they believe are harmful.
In 1953, during the McCarthy era, publishers and librarians came together to draft a set of principles that continue to define intellectual freedom–”The Freedom to Read.” It declares:
“It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority….”
“Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated….”
“It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of personal history or political affiliations of the author.”
The statement authors acknowledge that these principles protect the dissemination of ideas that many would find “repugnant.”
It concludes, “We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”