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Paul L. Boley Law Library

Celebrate the Freedom to Read Banned Books

September 26, 2017

  • Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

Guest post by 3L Mallory Meredith. 

This year’s Banned Books Week, a nationwide event, is taking place from September 24 through September 30, 2017. How can you support the freedom to read Banned Books? Check out one of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Top Ten Most Challenged Books from your public library, or grab an “I read banned books” pin at the library desk. Some of the ALA’s top ten books are even available at Watzek for anyone at Lewis & Clark to check out. 

This year, the number one spot on the ALA’s list is This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. [1] This book was challenged because of the inclusion of LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and mature themes.  However, did you know that 42% of challenges to books comes from parents, while only 2% of challenges come from governmental sources? [2]

Banning and challenging books is a practice that spans as far back as 1852, with the release of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe. Many historians list this as the first nationally banned book, since The Confederacy placed an almost blanket-ban on the book prior to the Civil War. [3]  The Comstock Act of 1873, which has since been repealed, had the purpose of banning the trade of “obscene” or “pornographic” materials, including literature. The original definition of obscene was extremely broad, and allowed for the banning of any books deemed immoral, and even led The Canterbury Tales to being banned from mailing into or within the United States.

In 1933, The United States v. One Book Called ‘Ulysses,’ 5 F. Supp. 182 (1933),was instrumental in narrowing the definition of pornographic. The new test looked at both the author’s intent (and if it was, indeed, “pornographic intent”), and the effect of the allegedly obscene words. Essentially, the new test required that a book have the purpose and actual effect of being pornographic in order for it to be banned.

Although this was a monumental shift in thinking, books continued to be challenged and banned. In 1957, the Supreme Court greatly narrowed the definition of obscenity in Roth v. The United States, 354 US 476 (1957). The new definition only applied to books that are “utterly without redeeming social importance.” This led to many more challenges in the Supreme Court by public officials, but the American public was starting to come around to the idea that banning books may not be a good thing. The election of President Reagan led to another upswing in book challenges, and ultimately to the creation of Banned Books Week by the American Library Association in 1982.

Libraries have since banned together with bookstores, campuses, and public schools to promote awareness to the American public that there are still many books being challenged. For example, classics such as Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway have all been challenged or removed from libraries dozens of times, if not more.  Modern young adult books have been challenged as well, such as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

To participate in this year’s Banned Books Week:

  • Participate in ALA’s Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament
  • Pick up your “I read banned books” button at the library desk
  • Check out Watzek Library’s awesome display highlighting Banned Books Week
  • And most importantly, read Banned Books!
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