My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of Liberty…
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…
Freedom…. Just the sight or the sound of that word brings a smile to my face.
Today in America, and in most of the western world, we are so accustomed to freedom that we can lose sight of the many ways in which we are blessed. In fact, we often take our freedoms for granted, not remembering how precious they are until they are challenged or removed. Then we rankle and fuss and shout that freedom is a right not a luxury.
How grateful I am for freedom — of thought, of religion, and most especially, of speech and expression. The written word can be a powerful thing, and from time to time people try to suppress others’ rights to write, speak, or read what they like. In this land where we have public schools and public libraries, we offer equal access — for all — to knowledge and learning. This cannot be undervalued, for unrestricted access to education helps keep the light of freedom burning. While I respect the rights of others to protect and defend their value system or watch-guard what their children see, hear, or read, it’s of paramount importance that this not be done by a school, library, government, or other public institution or public individual. This type of judgment must remain where it is — in the hands of the individual.
I’m thankful to be living in this age of freedom. Even in this beautiful land of ours, freedom of speech has suffered its knocks and blows. Celebrated American greats like Twain, Steinbeck, and Hemingway had works banned and challenged. Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath was banned and burned in a number of cities. The US Postal Service used to do more than just deliver the mail. In 1940, when it fell to them “to monitor and censor distribution of media and texts,” they declared as “non-mailable” Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls.* Giant of African-American literature Richard Wright was blacklisted by Hollywood for suspected Communist leanings. And believe it or not, certain songs from The Beatles were banned from US radio in the Sixties.
Let me not get off track. Today, I want to focus primarily on the freedom to read. Thankfully, times have changed. In 1953, recognizing how critical the right to read is to democracy, The American Library Association and The Association of American Publishers issued and adopted The Freedom to Read Statement. I’ve linked it here and I encourage you to read the Statement and its 7 propositions. I especially want to bring to your attention the fact that it has been necessary to amend it four times since its adoption.
We must remember that it took time, effort, sacrifice, and enlightenment to get to the level of freedom we have today. And we must remain steadfast in our desires and efforts to guard that precious freedom. So next time you see an advertisement that offends you, next time you catch a glimpse of the National Enquirer or some other “news” rag in the grocery checkout lane, or next time you think “That trash has no place in the [fill in the blank with any public place or market] ,” or, Heaven forbid, “The Internet ought to be regulated,” file those thoughts away, turn the channel, walk on by, and be grateful you have the freedom to make your own choices. And so does the guy or girl next door.
— Dawn Teresa
* Source: ALA http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/censorship/bannedbooksthatshapedamerica .