Freedom of speech. This phrase is bandied about by politicians, on the left or right; singers; bloggers; TV talking heads; everyone is using the first amendment as a jumping point into other arguments. What *is* the first amendment of the constitution? What did the framers write that is continuously argued about ?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Yep, that’s it, that tiny paragraph is responsible for what our republic holds so dear. And, speech isn’t the only right covered. It spreads rights around like butter on bread. No state religion, no exclusion of a religion, no quashing a hostile press, if a crowd peaceably assembles, fine, and the government must be held accountable for wrongs committed and reparation made.
Constitutional lawyers have argued the finer points of this amendment since first written. The rights sail back and forth like badminton. It’s original narrow perimeters have been slightly expanded. And then restricted, and then expanded. Depends on what 9 judges are on the Supreme Court. And the political position at that particular point in history.
One thing has remained fairly certain, books are protected within free speech, as long as those books do not have child porn, or the child porn doesn’t go through the mails. Basically, don’t go anywhere near child porn, which one would hope 99 per cent of the population don’t.
I remember handing out flyers for a shoe store (a right that wasn’t allowed a one point–commercial free speech was restricted) and seeing lots of tables full of books along the sides of incredibly busy streets, yet no food vendors or the like were allowed. I had no idea why this was–and I asked a book dealer. He informed me that books are protected by the first amendment and that selling them anywhere you want is permissible. I still find this hard to believe, but bookmen are there selling on blankets, from boxes, in parks, alleyways, on the corner of Fifth and 57th in front of Tiffany’s.
But, how does complaining about a specific book and wanting that book removed from government property work? I’m not sure, I don’t know if this particular problem has been before the high court, but I would think that since books fall under the first amendment and that the government, local or federal are in control, they would be in violation of the amendment if say a school or library arbitrarily kept certain titles from students or readers. And yet, books are banned all the time in this country. And, no child porn is involved. So what *is* covered? Is there a difference of pulling a book from a public library because one person or a couple don’t like it, as opposed to not allowing the title to be sold? I guess so. Freedom means you can publish anything you like that doesn’t have child porn or have extreme hate speech, although even that is iffy. And people can buy it. But the very government that gives you this right decides which books the public can and can not have access to, for free. Am I interpreting this right?
So local tax that has paid for libraries and school systems can and do decide what books to stock, and what ones they don’t want. Well, it does seem reasonable. Libraries aren’t capable of having every book ever written, especially now that so many are self pubbing, ha. But here’s the rub, as a banned Shakespeare would eloquently say; who has the right to tell the rest of the township which books will NOT be allowed and if it’s a governing board, then what is their criteria? And, if there is a board in place for the school, and the teachers are responsible for the curriculum, with the board’s oversight, what rights does anyone else have in regards to freedom of speech in terms of a specific book? And in a republic, when the majority rules, what power, if any, should a few have in regards to the disputed book?
Following the ideals of the first amendment, and assuming that majority still rules, then handing a few people the power to dictate books to local school systems seems anti free speech, if not technically so. But how would a few people be in the position to dictate? Free speech! Every individual is given the right to speak their mind, which is why the disgusting so called ‘religious’ group who go around shouting obscenities at fallen soldiers funerals are allowed to do so. Why Nazi’s can march down the street. Why anti-war protesters can assemble. And why a mini amount of individuals can expound upon a book and share their opinion of such book, and demand it’s removal from library or school. And why those who oppose the banning of same book can speak just as forcefully and loudly.
So back to who decides? The government, of course, the school board, the library’s board. They represent us, we elect them, they are given the power of speaking on our behalf. All of us. Once the arguments are cleared, they are given the task of deciding what their constituency wants.
And here’s where the right of the majority and their free speech is thwarted. It has become a common practice by school boards and libraries to avoid issues such as these like the plague. And the way they see to do this, is submit at the slightest whisper of dissent–even if by a lone voice.
Should the voice be heard, of course. Does that mean the voice should tell the powers what to do and they obediently do it? No. The rights of the people, those who also vote, those who also pay taxes, those who also have freedom to speak and who are not yelling censorship should be considered. Just because their voices aren’t screaming or on TV, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reckoned with.
To use a wonderful well known advocate of censorship, Richard Nixon, what about the ‘silent majority?” That’s just it. They’ve been way too silent. If more people would voice their rights, perhaps less schools, libraries, etc., would feel compelled to fold to the first person up in arms over some book. And if the majority agree the book should be banned? I have to believe that it is still unconstitutional to ban a book, but considering apparently it isn’t, there goes my argument. If we elect people to speak for us, and we speak to them, and we say–ban the book, it is within their rights to ban the book. As disgusting as this is, I have to see that the first amendment apparently only goes so far in terms of the right to free speech via books within local or federal government establishments.
If I’m wrong about this, please tell me! And how I’m wrong, and then how to stop the banning of books from schools when the majority want it so.
But, and it is such a big but, if the majority speak their minds to the people they elected to answer to their voices, and they say, no banning of the book–then no less than the majority should have the power to pull a book from a curriculum.
In other words–2 people do not have the power to dictate to the majority what book should or shouldn’t be included by the teachers who were hired to create curriculums. And set into place by the school board.
But, sadly, this is not always the case and small numbers of insistent extreme voices drown out the silent or quieter ones quite often. And we who stay silent or quiet in the face of our freedom of speech being corrupted have only ourselves to look to when the next book banned is one of our favorites.
So, next time your local library has a few people shouting about the pornography of Ulysses, start yelling back, make it clear that you also have the right to speak and more so, the right to borrow a classic from the library you pay for. And hold your school board responsible if they ban a title because of one or two or ten people think Huckleberry Finn is racist. The only way this free speech thing works, is if we–all of us–use it.