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Censorship, The Lose of Our First Amendment

May 24, 2011
Meark Twain Censored

The censored Version

 

Huckleberry Finn, The Censored Version

 

Censorship in the Land of the Free.

 

The title of this blog is, in itself a contradiction. No one is truly free if their thoughts are suppressed or dictated by the standards of another.  The “founding fathers” of American democracy knew this by experience. That experience was a principle reason for Article 3, Amendment 1 in the Bill of Rights, which states:

                        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,                      

 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.

            In order to fully appreciate the inherent right given to us by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we need to know what censorship is. By definition, censorship means “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable”. The root word, “censor”, is defined as “an official with the power to examine literature, mail, etc. and remove or prohibit anything considered objectionable”. Notice the words in those definitions, “suppress”, “remove”, and “prohibit”. These are the very same actions that the Bill of Rights gives us protection from. Also, take notice of the word “official”. If Congress can make no law prohibiting the expression of thought, then who is this official? The United States does not have a Department of the Censor because it is expressly forbidden by the Bill of Rights. There are no provisions anywhere in the Constitution for censorship.

            Our “founding fathers” were wise men. They had foresight into the needs of this country and what it would take for men to be free. This knowledge was based on their dealings with a tyrannical government. Samuel Adams and John Hancock both had warrants of treason against them for speaking out against England. Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense” pamphlet, was placed in jail in France for writing against the monarchy and his writings were banned in England. Thomas Jefferson, the principle author of The Declaration of Independence said, “I am opposed to any form of tyranny over the mind of man.

            Some would say that we shouldn’t rely on the ideas envisioned by our “founding fathers”. They lived in a past that is not relevant to the present. This type of thinking would also deem the Constitution irrelevant. It was conceived almost two hundred-twenty years ago and some believe that it should be updated to fit the times.  These are the same people that would squeal to high heaven if a single one of their constitutional rights, that they hold dear, were removed. Our choice would be to allow congress and Barrak Obama to revise a document that has stood the test of time. As for myself, I would trust the slave owning Jefferson and the promiscuous Franklin over any liberty stealing politicians of today.

            It wasn’t just our “founding fathers” who had problems with censorship. History is littered with so called “officials” who wanted to control the thoughts and actions of others. Socrates was convicted and forced to drink poison because his teachings were poisoning the minds of youths. For many governments this type of thinking has been the answer. They seek to destroy the source of any ideas that may conflict with their own.

            Many countries have taken steps to ensure that their citizens had no subversive thoughts.  In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi youth sponsored the burning of any and all books with “un-German” ideas. Any books written by a Jew, a communist, or humanists were burned, along with books written by Freud, Einstein, Jack London, H G Wells and many others. Ironically, a hundred years earlier, a German poet, Heinrich Heine, had stated “Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned also”. He was proven right by the mass exterminations of any that were not considered to be of the ideal “Arian Race”.

            Germany is not alone in its burning of books. There have been some instances in this country, even though rare. In 1873, Anthony Comstock convinced Congress to pass The Comstock Laws, making it illegal to transport or deliver any material considered to be “obscene or lascivious”. This included any literature or devices pertaining to birth control. Comstock claimed to have burned one hundred-sixty tons of “obscene” material and to have caused over 3000 arrests. Most of these laws have since been deemed unconstitutional, but we still have a few Federal Anti-obscenity Laws.        

           Even today, books are not safe from the judgmental ideas of the few. The American Library Association carries a list of books that have been challenged due to their content. These are not books written by radical extremists. The list includes authors that are considered literary geniuses, such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner. Also included in this list are popular writers of today such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and R.L. Stine. These authors have been placed on this list for various reasons, Twain (racism), King (vulgarity), and Rowling (witchcraft), just to name a few.

            Generally, these books are on this list for ridiculous reasons. Mark Twain’s use of the word “nigger”, in the book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, prompted him to be on this list and he has been labeled as a racist. It needs to be realized that this book was published in 1885 and is set twenty years before the Civil War. At that time, the word “nigger” was acceptable in society, and the term “African American” would not have had the same impact in the story. Anyone who has read this book would realize that Twain was not a racist. The story is about a white teenager and a black man trying to escape injustice and oppression by seeking freedom, which they do in the end. The real tragedy about this book being on the list is that it’s there simply because Twain was a white man that used the “N” word. Had Twain been black, this book may not have made the list. It probably would have been praised as a great work of an abolitionist. Racism is a doubled sided coin and often the term is used only when it benefits the user.

            The people who place these books on the list are few in number, but they speak the loudest. They truly believe they have a moral obligation to protect society’s virtues. Even though they are few in number, there are still fewer who are willing to take a stand against them. It’s easier to stand back and laugh at these zealots than to step up and confront them. But, while we are laughing, they are stripping us of our freedoms. Even libraries and school boards are refusing to order books that might be controversial just to avoid any confrontations.

            When asked, these zealots are appalled by the thought of children being exposed to the world’s immorality and believe they can stop it by stripping it from the world. If they truly want to save the children, they need to use their influential voice to strip the world of the immoralities of war, hunger, disease, and physical and sexual abuse.

            Censorship in most forms is wrong. It restricts the freedom of thought and expression. It places limits on the material we are allowed to ingest, thus restricting our ability to make a sound judgment based on all the facts. Censorship also removes the public’s right to decide what the truth is.  Censorship is propaganda used to sway the mind of individuals. This type of propaganda has been used by many countries during times of war to control the thoughts of others.

            If censorship was allowed in this country, what would be the limits? Would our favorite magazine be pulled from the shelves because someone did not like its content? Would they start editing the Bible because it offended someone? Don’t laugh, it’s already happening. Many churches have removed hymns from their songbooks because of offensive words, such as the hymn There’s Power in the Blood.

            It is understood that you cannot expose children to everything; their levels of maturities are different. It is not advisable to allow children at the age of six to read about puberty when they have no understanding of the word. But, you shouldn’t remove it from children of fourteen, who are struggling to understand the changes occurring within their bodies and the feelings of being alone with these changes. Mark Twain (the racist), once said “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have steak just because a baby can’t chew it”.

            The fact that government can not and should not be responsible to censor has been established. It has also been established that the few can not and should not regulate for all. But, who is to monitor our children and their selections of reading material? One answer would be parents! Now, I know that is hard to accept. In this day and age, it’s hard enough for two people to live together and survive with the way the economy is. The added burden of trying to guide children has become too much for most parents. It’s more convenient just to be the biological producer of children and allow others to raise these offspring. The real parents of today are our children’s peers, their schools, the television, and the computer. But, parents should and must take responsibility for raising their children. Their minds need guidance, but it is not the responsibility of the government to supervise this guidance. No school or library can know what each parent deems as appropriate. No one else should decide what is appropriate for our children except us as parents. This would mean monitoring what our children access on computers, monitoring what they see on television, and monitoring what they select to read.

            Again, it is understood that today it is difficult to monitor all of our children’s activities, and some compromises may be necessary. Age appropriate material may help alleviate the problem. Age appropriate material is not censorship; it is still available to the public at large, but not available to under-age children. Making age appropriate material has worked for movies and somewhat for television. Maybe this could be the answer for schools and libraries. It might even appease the zealots and offer some relief for parents.

            At the same time we are monitoring our children, we should remember that their minds crave imagination and creative thought. When you remove literature such as Harry Potter, you are removing their dreams, their right to envision the improvable that might be possible. Even though not a child, Martin Luther King had a dream and a censor put a bullet into that dream. That dream was able to live on because of the freedom of expression. Don’t let them put a bullet into our children’s dreams.

            Whatever the solution may be, it is important for everyone to be involved in the decision, not the few and definitely not the government. To get involved, contact your local library or The American Library Association. They sponsor “Banned Book Week” every year during the last week of September.

            Remember, just as Benjamin Franklin said, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend no one, there would be very little printed”.

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