“Complacency is ever the enabler of darkest deeds.” Robert Fanney recognized, as we do at NCAC, that silence and apathy lead to repression and censorship. In our 40th anniversary year, we celebrate the artists, authors, students, educators, librarians, lawmakers, celebs du jour, and yes, even corporations, who refused to remain silent on the top threats to free speech in 2014.
40. Sister Roma
Can Facebook tell you who you are, and does the site have the right to reveal your legal identity to the world? Sister Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a San Francisco-based drag group that regularly supports causes including AIDS, says no. After being locked out of her Facebook account because she wasn’t using her “real name,” she followed instructions to update her account with her legal name, and was immediately outed when the social media site updated her profile. She joined forces with others in the LGBT community to stand up for the right to choose how to identify.
39. Mary Kent Whitaker
Talk about strong school spirit! Watauga Teacher of the Year Mary Kent Whitaker backed her students’ right to read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits through heated debate and multiple attempts by parents to have the book removed from the 10th grade curriculum – even after the school board had unanimously upheld the value of the book. The novel, which appears on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate recommended work reading lists, caused such a stir that the decisive public school board meeting had to be moved to a larger space, where a well-earned victory was awarded to Ms. Whitaker and her students.
38. Mike Alewitz
“The primary weapon of our defense is solidarity.” Mike Alewitz, internationally recognized muralist, activist, and self-described agitator, has shaped his ability to rally and speak to the rights of labor workers across the globe through his life experiences as a student leader at Kent State, railroad worker, machinist, and sign painter. As a member of the United Scenic Artists Union, Local 829, and Artistic Director of the Labor Art and Mural Project based at Rutgers, Alewitz has brought together artists and workers throughout the U.S. and around the world, to create art that documents, speaks to, and opposes the struggle of the working person — including murals in the Middle East that were a joint effort for artists from Israel, Palestine, and the U.S.
37. Jenna Lyles & College of Charleston Students
Using legislative power in an attempt to make the LGBT existence invisible is simply unacceptable, at least to Jenna Lyles and College of Charleston students. Refusing to sit silently and let their rights be trampled, Lyles and other students openly opposed South Carolina Rep. Garry Smith R-Greensville based on his request to the House Ways and Means Committee to vote to cut funding to two state colleges based on the inclusion of gay-themed books as part of the curricula. The protestors took to Tumblr and other social media outlets to raise awareness of the budget provision and shame Smith for his effort “to silence gay voices in South Carolina,” as Lyles put it. The best way to counter such blatant abuse of power? To heroically amplify your voice and speak out.
36. Howard Sherman
You lose, censors. My post, “How To Fail At Canceling The Most Popular Play in High School Theatre” http://t.co/Jl3pgvtNsV #2amt #artsed
— Howard Sherman (@HESherman) October 21, 2014
“I am angry and I am sad. But I am not entirely surprised.” So begins Howard Sherman’s blog entry in response to the firing of Dawn Burch, drama director at South Williamsport Area Junior/Senior High School in Pennsylvania, after she spoke out against the cancellation of the school’s production of Spamalot. The play was cancelled after the school principal expressed concerns over its “homosexual themes,” and Burch was fired, by email no less, before the rescheduled School Board Meeting where the community would be able to weigh in on the decision. Howard Sherman, an arts administrator and producer well known throughout the arts and theater world and beyond, has become an influential advocate for high school theater. Sherman beautifully captures the situation with Burch, “[The students] have seen just how badly their elders can behave in the name of protecting them” and goes on to call her a hero. In our humble opinion, it takes one to recognize one.
35. Efren Montiel Jimenez and Rudy Ramirez
Victory was theirs, and therefore, all of ours! Rialto, California artist Efren Montiel Jimenez and president of the Inland Empire Latino Art Association, Rudy Ramirez, along with the NCAC and ACLU, spoke out against the removal of paintings that had been hung at the San Bernadino County Government Center in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month. The paintings were removed as a result of complaints that they were offensive due to the full frontal nudity of women depicted. The artists and supporters recognized the violation of their First Amendment rights and rallied to get the pictures rehung. Their voices were heard, and Jimenez, with the help of Ramirez, rehung the artworks with the honor of knowing they were free expression defenders.
34. Parents in Highland Park, Texas
When a group of parents bombarded the school board with complaints about not one, but seven, titles slated to be used in the Highland Park High School curriculum, the superintendent set up a temporary suspension of the books until further review by parents, teachers, and students. Rather than sit back and accept this ruling, another group of parents organized a campaign to get the titles back into the hands of students, who had already started reading and discussing some of the titles when they were abruptly removed from lesson plans. Thanks to the diligence of these free speech defenders, the temporary ban has been raised on all seven titles, and students and their parents once again have the individual right to choose what titles are appropriate.
33. Patti Adler
University of Colorado Boulder Sociology professor Patti Adler was intimidated, harassed, threatened, and stripped of academic freedom and her right to personal privacy after exploring the idea of sex, sexuality, and prostitution in her “Deviance in U.S. Society” course. The university cancelled the class and offered to allow Adler to return, but not teach the course, or take early retirement. Organizations and supporters rallied behind the professor, and the university backed down to allow her to continue teaching the course. However, Adler saw the victory as bittersweet, “My victory today is a small one, and mostly Pyrrhic, because the trends toward mission creep and overreach by bodies such as the Office of Discrimination and Harassment and Institutional Review Boards are increasingly dominating decision-making in higher education. Universities and schools at all levels around the globe are increasingly sacrificing academic freedom as they become more concerned with risk and liability than with creating an environment in which creativity and ideas can flourish and students can be challenged to expand their horizons.”
32. New York State Senator Ted O’Brien
New York administrators, parents, and teachers were more than flabbergasted over the lack of transparency in the development and implementation of the testing associated with the Common Core State Standards – a process that included a gag order that bars teachers and principals from publicly discussing the exams, including any mistakes or problems with the tests. In agreement with their anger at such a ridiculous policy, New York State Senator Ted O’Brien (D-Irondequoit) sent a letter to the New York State Education Commissioner calling on him to release the gag order imposed by Pearson as part of the education company’s $32 million contract with the New York State of Education. Perhaps if the commissioner were to take a day or two to sit for the exams himself, he would be more willing to discuss their appropriateness or simply to defend the right for educators to conduct an open forum on their fitness.
31. Stoya and James Deen
Should adult film stars have the right to choose whether they use condoms? The answer seems like a given, as the medium itself is evidence of an individual’s right to use their body as part of sexually graphic depictions created for the purpose of entertainment. But voters in LA don’t see it that way, as a 55-percent majority voted in favor of Measure B, a law that requires the use of condoms in adult films in LA County. Porn stars Stoya and James Deen have been outspoken opponents to the law, with candid descriptions of why the law does nothing to actually protect adult film actors. And if the argument is that these films should depict safe sex so that viewers are influenced to be safer sexually, perhaps all action adventure actors should be required to wear helmets?
30. Discovery Green Administrators
Kudos to Discovery Green in Houston for standing behind their “Wings of the City” exhibit, which includes nine sculptures of a disguised man who is nude in some of the works. The park released a statement in support of the work by Jorge Marin despite criticism from locals who went so far as to call the sculptures “porn.” Although art interpretation is in the eye of the beholder, it is commendable that Houston recognized that nudity isn’t the same as sexuality, and art interpretation is in the eye of beholder.
29. Cory Doctorow
The book had been assigned as the school’s One School/One Book summer reading text; the school librarian, Betsy Woolley, and Mary Kate Griffith, the English Department head, had worked hard to set up the program and develop the supplementary discussion materials for the fall; administrators had signed off on Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, and then, without formal challenge or even internal school discussion, the principal of Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, cancelled the entire summer reading program. He did so citing reviews that highlighted the book’s positive view of “hacker culture” questioning authority, and discussion of sex and sexuality in passing. The school faculty turned to author Doctorow to help fight back, and fight back he did. Doctorow brought attention to the situation through his blog, his publisher agreed to send 200 copies of the novel to the high school for free, the author donated valuable litograph posters to the school, and vowed to still do a videoconference with the students this fall. The fight continues, as the school superintendent has backed the principal, and the book has not been returned to the hands of students. Perhaps this violation of their rights and the strong response of their faculty as well as the author will inspire discourse—thereby making it a victory regardless.
A coalition of more than 50 organizations, including unions, political organizations, and environmental groups, have organized to create StopFastTrack.com. The groups gathered almost half a million signatures and made more than 40,000 calls to Congress in opposition of the Fast Track legislation, also know as the Trade Legislation Authority, which would remove Congressional power and allow the president to bypass Congressional discussion and amendment and simply require a yes-or-no vote. The trade agreements in question have been surrounded by the utmost secrecy, adding to the urgency to greatly increase transparency and apply the democratic process to the agreements.
27. Dan Carlin
Fan or foe, there is no arguing whether Dan Carlin is thought provoking. His unique perspective, historical knowledge, and candid approach to topics ranging from the Ebola outbreak to the NSA, surveillance, and privacy create a platform for discussion regardless of your political position. The fearless host of two independent and wildly popular podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History, Carlin offers multiple views on a topic, sometimes inciting anger in his listeners, but always offering a fresh perspective while dissecting an issue.
26. Sam Kench
Perhaps young filmmaker Sam Kench will have Lori Lane to thank as he accepts an Oscar in the future. Lane, as the new director of the New Hampshire Newfound Area School District Project Promise afterschool program disbanded Sam’s film club under constitutionally suspect circumstances, stating that there is no connection between the club and activities that would improve “student performance in core academic subjects like reading and mathematics.” Despite Kench’s explanation that students in the club write original scripts, read and memorize lines, and use advanced film-editing software to create their productions, Lane would not allow the club. Kench requested to meet with the superintendent to discuss the situation, but his request was denied. Kench and his club members received support from the community and began meeting at the local library. They have since created many original films, available from Brickwall Productions, and can now use underdog-overcomes-tyrant plot as a true storyline.
25. Trevor Paglen
Counter-surveillance artist Trevor Paglen’s beautiful, ground-breaking, controversial, and thought-provoking work was recently honored with a Pioneer Award by the San Franciso-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The non-profit organization presents the award to those who are “extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology.” Paglen’s work is difficult to classify, pun intended, as he experiments with the idea of secrecy and revealing the invisible through photographs of top-secret government sites, drone flights, and spacecraft; the resulting images, acquired through innovative but legal means, inpsire viewers to open their eyes to the dangerous beauty of the secret world that surrounds us.
24. Pat Scales
After 36 years as a school librarian, Pat Scales not only has the experience and wisdom to be an advocate for children’s literature but also has the passion and expertise to be a true resource and sounding board for child and young adult rights to reading. Scales is a friend of NCAC as well as a member of the Council of Advisors, and is a contributor to the “Weighing In” column for Booklist. Scales eloquently articulates the benefits of exposing youth to ideas that might be controversial, uncomfortable, or unpopular through literature, and expertly argues in favor of discourse over censorship.
23. “Free-Range Parents”
Studies from Fresno State Craig School of Business, Journal of Child and Family Studies, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Journal of Personal Social Psychology, and American Sociological Review, among scads of others, make evident the importance of giving kids the space to fall, be uncomfortable, and encounter challenges so that they can rise to the occasion, expand their thinking, grow their confidence, and build a skillset and perspective that will help make them successful and productive members of our planet. All of the studies, papers, and clinical reviews back the idea that helicopter parents, though well-intended, often undermine not only their children’s confidence and ability to navigate life’s challenges but also their success later in life: Once paper found that the more money parents spend on their child’s college education, the worse grades the child earns. Cheers to the free-range parents who love their kids so much that they are willing swallow their own fear and the strong desire to swoop and instead let their children experience life, in age-appropriate doses. Though it is difficult and scary, these parents give freedom while providing a foundation of unwavering support on which their children can build.
22. Andrew Lampart
While using his study hall to research his argument for a gun-control debate, Nonnewaug High School senior Andrew Lampart realized that conservative sites such as the National Association for Gun Rights and TheBlaze.com were blocked while he could freely access the Planned Parenthood site and pro-gun control site Moms Demand Action. Surprised that the school would so unequally block or allow access to conservative versus liberal sites, Lampart raised the question to first the Superintendent and then the school board, who noted that the sites had been unintentionally filtered by the software and would ensure that an expedited process was underway to unblock “appropriate” sites. Another defender of the right to unbiased access to Internet content, Brendan Davison, a junior at Shawnee Mission Northwest in Kansas, spoke up about the school’s computers, which allow students to visit gaming sites but block access to Google Images, among other useful tools. Mission has asked that consideration be given to ease the restrictions and requested that students be provided a technology handbook that clearly lists the rules and regulations.
21. John Oliver
Is it possible to oversee your own oversight? John Oliver’s rant on net neutrality raises this and other unbelievable yet pertinent questions about the cable companies’ attack on net neutrality. Oliver’s summary of the threat to Internet freedom is no less poignant for its hilarity, and he brilliantly highlights that it is not just anti-corporate hippies who think net neutrality is a bad idea. Citing an analogy of Superman teaming up with Lex Luther, Oliver points out that what’s being proposed by the cable companies is so egregious, activists and corporations including Google, Amazon, and Facebook are being forced onto the same side. If Oliver is correct in his assertion that if you want to do something evil in America, put it inside something boring, his very entertaining tirade on the subject might be our only hope for inspiring action.
20. Caroline Bartley & Muhlenberg Middle School Students
“They can’t just take books from right under our noses and think we’re too cowardly and incompetent to take action. Right now, my friends and I are in the planning process of how were going to solve this, and once we finalize everything, we WON’T be backing down. They messed with the wrong ones,” states Caroline Bartley, student at Muhlenberg Middle School, in her petition to end red-flagging of books in her district. Red-flagging is a disturbingly growing trend to classify books based on certain types of content – essentially, looking at the books as a sum of their parts rather than a whole literary experience. Rather than label a title “mature” and remove it from an age-appropriate classroom setting because it contains profanity, educators should be given a forum to explain the educational value and the informed reasons they have chosen a given work. Caroline Bartley’s bravery in speaking out when even her teachers didn’t feel safe doing so as well as her well-written defense of her right to access classroom libraries shows a bright future for her as a free expression defender.
19. Ruth Stanford
There is a great difference between standing idly by and letting censorship occur and taking the high road by simply, honestly, and forthrightly answering inquiries and correcting any misinformation and misinterpretations, or as Ruth Stanford puts it, “basically, to let the situation speak for itself.” Stanford’s work, “A Walk in the Valley,” was removed from Kennesaw State University’s Zuckerman Museum the day before the museum opening because the university president felt the work “did not align with the celebratory atmosphere” and could trigger uncomfortable feelings about race. The artist’s inclusion of an article about lynching, written and published in 1899 by Corra Harris, was the root of the problem. Stanford saw the opportunity to create a dialogue about the complexity of historical figures and their legacies, and concluded, “Restoring the work to its place in the gallery and its context within the show would allow the viewers to form their own opinions about the work — uncensored and unmediated. As it should be.”
18. Project Secret Identity
Using fear and monitoring to access private information and control data about citizens—are we talking about Voldemort and the Death Eaters or our own government? Fiction has become too close to reality when it comes to civil liberties, as evidenced by NSA mass surveillance, local police use of spy technology, and big data brokers scraping personal information from social media networks. In an effort to take back our right to privacy, the Electronic Frontiers Forum (EFF), io9, and a multitude of additional organizations have started an activism campaign: “Project Secret Identity underlies the belief that we must protect and advocate for ourselves in order to shape the future,” clearly states the mission of the organization at ProjectSecretIdentity.org. Supporters are encouraged to post photos of themselves in costume holding pro-anonymity signs with slogans such as “Privacy Is Not a Fantasy” and “1984 Is Not an Instruction Manual.” Long live the freedom of the Internet!
17. Ani Akpan
Congratulations to the very talented Ani Akpan, who won the 2013 Youth Free Expression Project Film Contest, which had the theme “Video Games in the Crosshairs?” This gifted young filmmaker captured the battle-filled future of video game censorship and the associated frustration in his short film “Future Warfare III.” With excellent suspense build-up as well as sweet special effects, the movie captures the audience and clearly delivers its message. The 17-year-old Akpan has a bright future in both filmmaking and free expression advocacy.
16. Journalists Doing Their Jobs
Journalism has become a dangerous job—just ask New York Times reporter James Risen, and as a result, journalists are becoming more and more likely to shy away from political reporting. Is the “chill effect” of federal scrutiny scaring journalists from following leads that might lead to “sensitive” stories on national security a real thing? According to most national security reporters, the answer is an unwavering Yes. Journalists face subpoena threats from the DOJ and prosecution as a criminal awaits anyone deemed a federal leaker. Not only is the administration openly bullying journalists into silence and often doing so in such a brazenly partisan way (see Fox News reporter James Rosen), but it was revealed last year the Justice Department had secretly accessed the phone records of AP reporters and editors over a 2-month period. No time in our history has freedom of press been so blatantly disregarded. And so, it is an understatement to call those who are willing to put their freedom, their civil liberties, their jobs, their families, and their privacy on the line to do the job of uncovering and reporting the truth heroes. It is up to the rest of us to back them up.
15. FixTheDMCA.org and Sina Khanifar
It’s widely acknowledged that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act needs to be fixed. The law was written a decade ago to update copyright law in the age of the Internet; however, the law was poorly written and has had many unintended side effects. In addition to putting consumers at risk for unlocking their own cell phones and other devices, it prevents people from being able to modify, repair, or even recycle electronics that they legally own. Specifically in question is Section 1201 of the act, the “anti-circumvention provisions” that enable companies to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) techniques and technologies, such as encoding, to prevent content piracy. This provision unintentionally stifles academics, artists, musicians, filmmakers, researchers, archivists, and librarians, not to mention people with disabilities who rely on modifications to be able to access copyrighted content. In response, Sina Khanifar, an entrepreneur and activist, developed FixTheDMCA.org, a web site that enables users to email and tweet protest petitions to their lawmakers. The site has seen incredible response, and hopefully, a modified act is a reality in the not-so-distant future.
14. Judy Blume
Beloved author Judy Blume needs no introduction, in any setting. Her books have transformed and some would argue created the genre of young adult literature. She has spoken to generations of readers who have instantly identified with the struggles and challenges of her relatable characters. And for as long as her readership has appreciated her frank text, censors and challenges have burdened them. But where many artists would turn away or remain bewildered at an attempt to silence their voices, Blume has pioneered as an author activist who took up the cause and the messy politics of free expression and continues to defend the right to bring difficult topics to the table. She is a hero to many for many reasons, only one of which is as a dedicated and inspiring free speech defender.
13. Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall
“We can protect our national security without trampling our constitutional liberties. This court ruling only underscores the urgent need for Congress to act and pass my bipartisan bill to ensure the NSA focuses on terrorists and spies — and not innocent Americans,” stated Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) in response to the federal court ruling that the NSA program that collects information on almost all phone calls made to, from, or within the U.S. is likely to be unconstitutional. For years, Senator Udall as well as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have been the lone legislative voices calling for NSA reform and a transparent look into NSA, FBI, and CIA surveillance practices. We applaud their tireless efforts to prove that we can defend our country while also defending our individual privacy.
12. Kara Walker
In a heroic and beautiful departure from the perception that free expression defense has to be a conflict, renowned artist Kara Walker sees art censorship through the lens of opportunity rather than enmity. At NCAC’s 2013 Free Speech Matters Celebration, she shared her idea that an artist and a censor can engage in a “call and response” that results in a vital and productive conversation. “Art wants to engage,” explains Walker, and censorship provides that opportunity for dialogue. Engage she does, as evidenced this summer when people lined up to behold her “sugar sphinx” at the condemned Domino Sugar Factory.
Fearful of antagonizing a company with which they do business, many media companies have remained quiet, silent even, about the proposed Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger, but not Netflix. The company was one of the first to speak out against the merger and has also taken up the banner for net neutrality. The company released a statement openly opposing the cable company merger on the basis that it would greatly reduce competition and create a giant monopoly. In addition, Netflix includes an explanation of the dangers of the current weak net neutrality setup on its blog, and participated in the united stand for net neutrality that happened in September of this year. Thankfully, Netflix is no longer the lone voice opposing the merger—Discovery Communications, which owns Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and TLC, filed with the FCC against the merger, arguing that it “could result in lower quality, less diverse programming, and fewer independent voices among programmers.” The filing combined with the unwavering position of companies like Netflix will hopefully inspire courage in additional networks and media companies to speak up before it’s too late!
10. New Jersey Supreme Court
Artistic imagination or motive? Where is the line between perceived violent and threatening words and the real threat of violence? Can song lyrics and Facebook posts be legally used to convict and imprison? Consider the case of rap lyrics that have been used in criminal trials either to directly convict or to influence the perception of the lyricist–or even a person who publicly repeats the lyrics in a journal or via social media, for example. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the answer is no. In a victory for First Amendment rights, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that lyrics are a form of artistic expression and must therefore be protected as free speech. The First Amendment was written to protect lawful speech regardless of whether it is unpopular or controversial.
Along the same lines falls the case of Anthony Elonis, who made disturbing and threatening posts toward his estranged wife on his Facebook page. Although no one would deny that the statements were crude and unsettling (and perhaps, combined with other evidence, would lead a jury to determine Elonis’ intent was to truly threaten his wife), the case raises questions about free expression versus motive. As such, it is imperative that the judicial system strike a balance between individual protection from harm and the unalienable right to free speech for our society as a whole.
9. CamPost Heroes Hannah Lowe, Katie Redefer and Rachel Wagner
Perhaps the Cape Henlopen School Board didn’t realize the fire they would light in students by cancelling the summer reading list for 9th grade students because it included Emily Danforth’s critically-acclaimed novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. When the NCAC asked students in Delaware to write essays explaining to the school board the importance of books such as Cameron Post on school reading lists, the response was overwhelming. A well-earned congratulations to Hannah Lowe, Katie Redefer, and Rachel Wagner, the first, second, and third place winners, respectively. Reading their thoughtful viewpoints on a title that some adults have deemed controversial or inappropriate reveals a maturity and appreciation of literature as well as intellectual freedom that is lacking representation in the school board. Perhaps this experience has planted a seed of free expression defense that will continue to grow in these brave and wise young adults.
8. Matt Stone & Trey Parker
“When we started out, we didn’t know anything about political correctness. We were just two guys from Colorado, and it was because we didn’t know any better that we did the kind of humor we did. We like being rebellious, and we like flying in the face of what people think we should say.” As Trey Parker sums it up, he and Matt Stone were able to strike a chord and immediately foster a growing audience because they didn’t feel the need to edit themselves to what was “appropriate.” The creative team has so boldly treated cultural, historical, and political topics that there is even a course at Brooklyn College called “South Park and Political Correctness.” How is it possible that a team condemned for their vulgarity and offensiveness has found such a huge following and such great success? The reality is that the duo’s extreme skepticism of political correctness is balanced by their equal treatment of subjects like religion, race, and sexual preference. Perhaps the public is intelligent enough to be trusted with freedom of all speech, regardless of whether it is offensive, uncomfortable, or might even hurt the feelings of others; and maybe we identify with Stone and Parker’s desire to ignore the ever-changing definition of what is PC and just speak our minds.
7. JeffCo Students
Sometimes the students school the educators. Such was the case with Jefferson County School Board in Colorado, whose efforts to oversee and micromanage the teaching of AP U.S. history sparked students to remind teachers and administrators of the Bill of Rights. The board is proposing a committee review of the curriculum to ensure that it “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials, and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” One proposal states that “Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law [but] should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” The irony is not wasted on students and teachers at the school, who have vigorously protested the planned changes to the curriculum. Organizations like the ACLU and NCAC have commended the free speech defenders for making their voices heard in peaceful protest and patriotic social strife. It would be a shame for such patriotism to fall on deaf ears.
6. The Publishing Industry
Publishers understand that the First Amendment is not an abstraction. The business of publishing is profoundly affected by threats to freedom of speech, including government efforts to curb media violence and “indecency,” attempts to hold publishers liable for illegal acts “inspired” by their works, domestic and foreign libel suits aimed at silencing publishers and authors, the threat to reader privacy from intrusive government surveillance, the weakening of fundamental protections for investigative journalists, and efforts to remove books with “objectionable” content from public and school libraries and classroom reading lists. Fully one-third of the books selected by the Modern Library as the 100 best novels of the 20thCentury, including six of the top ten, have at one time or another been removed or threatened with removal from bookstores, libraries, and schools. Publishers are passionately committed to the fight to keep the books they publish freely available to adults and young people.
5. Robie Harris
Congratulations to Robie Harris, award-winning children’s book author and young-reading advocate, in winning the inaugural Mills Tannenbaum Award for Children’s Literacy as well as being honored at NCAC’s Free Speech Matters 40th Anniversary Celebration this November. Harris is fearless in tackling difficult questions and the strong emotions that face children, and she does so with a lighthearted and fun approach that has made her books cherished by parents and kids alike. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Harris’ groundbreaking It’s Perfectly Normal, a guide to help kids and teens make responsible decisions about their sexual health. In addition, Harris’ book Maybe a Bear Ate It! was chosen as the official 2012 One Book 4 Colorado book, which gives every 4-year-old in Colorado a new book. In New York, many children have received the book through the Reach Out and Read program. There are few things more important than instilling a love for reading in even the youngest of readers, and we applaud Harris and her wonderful books for doing that and so much more.
4. Neil Gaiman
Award-winning author of The Sandman, American Gods, and Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman has had to face his share of challenges from parents, educators, and administrators who have accused his work of being inappropriate, sexually explicit, and vulgar. The removal of Neverwhere from a classroom in Alamogordo, New Mexico based on the complaint of one parent caused a worldwide protest, led by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The book returned to the classroom after a review, which found it to be “educationally suitable, balanced, and age-appropriate for high school students.”
Gaiman has been an outspoken defender of the rights of young adults to read not only his titles but content that might seem uncomfortable to adults: “Most kids self-censor incredibly well. They reject things that they think look dull, or too scary or weird, or just too old for them. And often when they do get hold of stuff that’s too old for them, they don’t necessarily get what you’re getting from it. (I’ve been accused of writing an explicit sex scene in Stardust and asked how I think that’s okay for kids to read, and I have had to explain that the scene is only explicit if you bring yourself to it, not in the words used, and that it’s significantly less explicit if you’re a kid and you don’t know what’s being described.)” For this freedom of expression advocacy, Neil Gaiman is being honored on November 3rd at our Annual Celebration of Free Speech & Its Defenders. A heartfelt congratulations to @neilhimself.
3. Larissa Mark & Trumbull High Thespians
The show did, in fact, go on, thanks to the efforts of Larissa Mark, president of Trumbull High School’s Thespian Society, and the Trumbull High School thespians, and support from organizations such as the NCAC and the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF). The Thespian society had planned to stage a “school edition” of Jonathan Larson’s musical “Rent” in March 2014; however, in the preceding November, the principal, Marc Guarino, put the production on “indefinite hold” due to his perception that the content was too controversial (it should be noted that the school version does not include most of the profanity or the song “Contact”). The students took to social media as well as expressing their outrage on campus, and Mark started petitions, created an information web site, and gained the attention of the media, eventually reaching national press. This effective method of resistance led to the support of the DLD, whose president John Weidman articulated the dangers of such censorship: “When a provocative piece of theater is canceled anywhere, it has a chilling effect on the production of provocative theater pieces everywhere. In this instance, it was Larissa Mark’s effort, commitment, and leadership that ensured Jonathan Larson’s right to be heard.” And for this, NCAC honors the Thespians on November 3rd!
2. Free Expression Network
The Free Expression Network (FEN) is an alliance of organizations dedicated to protecting the First Amendment right of free expression and the values it represents, and to opposing governmental efforts to suppress constitutionally-protected speech. It includes free speech organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, groups on the frontlines of breaking controversies and evolving censorship trends. FEN members provide a wide range of expertise, resources, and services to policymakers, the media, scholars, and the public at large. Members meet on a quarterly basis to discuss and debate complex First Amendment issues, to share information and strategies, to coordinate activities, and to organize collective action.
1. Our 54 Coalition Partners
Belonging to their own exclusive list, the 54 non-profit organizations that form our coalition run the gamut of free expression issues, representing artistic, educational, religious, labor, and civil liberty communities. For forty years, they have been the experts that NCAC turns to first when we need our voice amplified, beginning with the “ad-hoc committee” of 23 groups that launched NCAC in 1974 to today’s national network of 54 free speech defenders.
Our coalition partners join the other 39 heroes on the list, the countless others not mentioned on this page, and everyone in communities across the country who are committed to the protection of First Amendment Rights. All of us are united in the conviction that censorship of what we see and hear and read is unacceptable and leads to religious, political, artistic, and intellectual repression. Recognizing censorship when it happens, though, is only half the battle. Our defenders make sure everyone else hears about it, too. #FreeSpeechMatters.
This is the fourth list in a series of Top 40s to commemorate NCAC’s 40th anniversary year. ICYMI, check out our top cut, censored and banned films or browse our summer reading list.