Monday, January 30, 2012

For Immediate Release...

Joint Statement in Opposition to Book Censorship in the Tucson Unified School District 

January 30, 2012

The undersigned organizations are committed to protecting free speech and intellectual freedom. We write to express our deep concern about the removal of books used in the Mexican-American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. This occurred in response to a determination by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the program "contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people" and that "materials repeatedly reference white people as being 'oppressors...' in violation of state law." The books have been boxed up and put in storage; their fate and that of the program remain in limbo.

The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress "an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." School officials have a great deal of authority and discretion to determine the curriculum, the subject of courses, and even methods of instruction. They are restrained only by the constitutional obligation to base their decisions on sound educational grounds, and not on ideology or political or other personal beliefs. Thus, school officials are free to debate the merits of any educational program, but that debate does not justify the wholesale removal of books, especially when the avowed purpose is to suppress unwelcome information and viewpoints.

School officials have insisted that the books haven't been banned because they are still available in school libraries. It is irrelevant that the books are available in the library - or at the local bookstore. School officials have removed materials from the curriculum, effectively banning them from certain classes, solely because of their content and the messages they contain. The effort to "prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, [or] religion" is the essence of censorship, whether the impact results in removal of all the books in a classroom, seven books, or only one.

Students deserve an education that provides exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial. Their education has already suffered from this political and ideological donnybrook, which has caused massive disruption in their classes and will wreak more havoc as teachers struggle to fill the educational vacuum that has been created.

Book-banning and thought control are antithetical to American law, tradition and values. In Justice Louis Brandeis's famous words, the First Amendment is founded on the belief:
that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile;...that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination...Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, [the Framers] eschewed silence coerced by law...Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed. 
The First Amendment right to read, speak and think freely applies to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or national origin. We strongly urge Arizona school officials to take this commitment seriously and to return all books to classrooms and remove all restrictions on ideas that can be addressed in class.

American Association of University Professors Cary Nelson, President 1133 19th St., NW, Suite 200 Washington, D.C. 20036 202-737-5900

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression Chris Finan, President 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 212-587-4025

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director P.O. Box 17148 Phoenix, AZ 85011-0148 602-773-6006

Antigone Books Trudy Mills and Kate Randall, Owners 411 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705 520-792-3715

Association of American Publishers Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20001 202-220-4551

Association of American University Presses Peter Givler, Executive Director 28 West 36th Street, Suite 602 New York, NY 10018 212-989-1010

Atalanta's Music & Books Joan Werner, Owner 38 Main Street Bisbee, AZ 85603 520-432-9976

Authors Guild Paul Aiken, Executive Director 31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor New York, NY 10016 212-563-5904

Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking Dr. Kathryn F. Whitmore, President N275 Lindquist Center The University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 52242 319-335-5434

Changing Hands Bookstore Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer and Cindy Dach, Owners 6428 S McClintock Drive Tempe, AZ 85283 480-730-0205

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Charles Brownstein, Executive Director 255 West 36th Street, Suite 501 New York, NY 10018 212-679-7151

Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliate of the American Library Association Barbara M. Jones, Executive Director 50 East Huron Street Chicago, IL 60611 312-280-4226

International Reading Association Richard M. Long, Ed.D., Director, Government Relations 444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 524 Washington, DC 20001 (202) 624-8801

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Laura Ayrey, Executive Director 8020 Springshire Drive Park City, UT 84098 435-649-6079

National Coalition Against Censorship Joan Bertin, Executive Director 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 212-807-6242

National Council for the Social Studies Susan Griffin, Executive Director 8555 16th St, Ste 500 Silver Spring, MD 20910 301.588.1800 x 103

National Council of Teachers of English Millie Davis Senior Developer, Affiliated Groups and Public Outreach 1111 West Kenyan Road Urbana, IL 61801 800-369-6283 ext. 3634

National Youth Rights Association Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director 1101 15th Street, NW Suite 200 Washington, DC 20005 202-835-1739

PEN American Center Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs 588 Broadway New York, NY 10012 212-334-1660 ext. 105

PEN Center USA Adam Somers, Executive Director P.O. Box 6037 Beverly Hills, CA 90212 323-424-4939

People For the American Way Debbie Liu, General Counsel 1101 15th Street NW, Suite 600 Washington, D.C. 20005 202-467-4999

Reach Out and Read Anne-Marie Fitzgerald Senior Director of National and State Programs 56 Roland Street, Suite 100D Boston, MA 02129 618-455-0600

Reading is Fundamental, Inc. Carol Hampton Rasco, President/CEO 1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 300 Washington, DC 20037 202-536-3500

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Lin Oliver, Executive Director 8271 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90048 323-782-1010

Spark Teacher Education Institute Educational Praxis, Inc. P.O. Box 409 Putney, Vermont 05346 802-258-9212

Student Press Law Center Frank LoMonte, Executive Director 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100 Arlington, VA 22209-2275 USA 703-807-1904

TESOL International Association John Segota, CAE Associate Executive Director for Public Policy & Professional Relations 1925 Ballenger Ave., Suite 550 Alexandria, VA 22314 703-518-2513

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