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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

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

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

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

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

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

Atalanta’s Music & Books
Joan Werner, Owner
38 Main Street
Bisbee, AZ 85603

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Lin Oliver, Executive Director
8271 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048

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

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

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

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