'Banned Books Week' Promotes Intolerance, Critics Say

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Far from celebrating Americans' First Amendment right to free speech, the American Librarian Association's "Banned Books Week" is an attempt to bully parents and teachers who do not agree that children should have access to all material, no matter how obscene, family groups told CNSNews.com.

"Banned Books Week promotes intolerance, not reading," said Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family. "Every year the ALA attempts to intimidate and silence any parent, teacher or librarian who questions the age-appropriateness of primarily sexually-explicit or violent material for school children."

With the theme "Free People Read Freely," Banned Books Week 1999 - Celebrating the Freedom to Read, September 25 - October 2, highlights the importance of the First Amendment right to choose to read all books, including banned and challenged ones and other literature considered objectionable, the ALA claims in a news release.

"The ALA reduces the issue of censorship to nonsense," Minnery said. "For example, according to the ALA, if a school administrator moves a sexually-explicit book from a junior high curriculum to a high school curriculum because of age-appropriateness concerns, that is a sinister incident of 'censorship.' How ridiculous."

Coinciding with Banned Books Week, "Filtering Facts" and "Family Friendly Libraries," two national library watchdogs, recently published a list of the "10 Most Unsafe Public Libraries for Children."

"All 10 of these libraries are large systems that provide unfiltered Internet access to all children, and will do nothing to intervene when children are accessing pornography," David Burt, director of the Oregon-based Filtering Facts, told CNSNews.com.

Sifting information published in the media and data obtained through freedom of information requests, Burt looks at large public libraries that don't take responsibility for minors' access to potentially harmful materials and who have histories of patron complaints.

"Our hope is that publicly identifying the worst providers of pornography to children will help spur action to win back parental rights and protection for children in these libraries," Burt said.

The 10 worst public library systems, according to the watchdogs, are in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Denver, Multnomah County in Oregon, Sonoma County in California, San Francisco, San Antonio, Seattle and Chicago.

"We put special emphasis on the last line of the First Amendment, which says 'the right of citizens to petition their government for redress of grievances,'" said Karen Jo Gounaud, president of the Springfield, Va.-based Family Friendly Libraries, in an interview with CNSNews.com. "And that's the part that I don't believe you would find if you searched through 30 years of American Library Association agenda stuff.

"We believe the First Amendment is ineffective if it doesn't run both ways," she said.

"We don't blame librarians as a whole for the current state of affairs. Most feel caught in the crossfire between the ALA leadership and the honest requests of the families they serve," Gounaud said.

According to the ALA's web page, the essential message of Banned Books Week "is the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them."

"We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources," the ALA's Code of Ethics says.