American Library Association, Banned Book Week:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Intellectual freedom – the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular – provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.
The ALA provides many resources related to Banned Books Week, including a compilation of frequently challenged books that can be arranged by author, year or literary status.
I am an advocate of freedom of speech. Here are some unorthodox and unpopular ideas that were banned or challenged in the United States in the years 2011 – 2013. Two speakers who experienced especially prolonged and repeated challenges to their freedom of speech are Robert Spencer (Jihad Watch) and Pam Geller (Atlas Shrugs). They documented their challenges, successes and failures at their own sites and were mentioned prominently in my similar compilation of last year. While they are not included here, I offer them my congratulations and sympathies and support. I encourage my readers to examine their work.
Neil O’Brien is a senior and student government member at California State University in Fresno, California. In May 2011 he asked Chicano Latino Studies Department Chair Victor Torres and Professor Maria Lopez questions about a poem published in student newspaper. Chair Torres and Professor Lopez refused to speak with O’Brien and contacted the police. Torres and Lope accused O’Brien of being threatening and harassing. Video of the questions O’Brien asked were not viewed by CSU-Fresno administration, nor was O’Brien allowed to have a lawyer present at his hearing. As of December 2011, O’Brien has been placed on disciplinary probation.
Norma Ramos is executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. In June 2012 Ramos held a protest at the New York office of the Village Voice against the Village Voice‘s ownership of backpage.com and the classified advertisements found at backpage.com. Sex Workers Outreach Project New York held a counter-protest. Sex Workers Outreach Project New York was ordered by police to stay half a block away from Ramos (and thus the Village Voice). Ramos was not ordered by police to stay half a block away from Sex Workers Outreach Project or the Village Voice.
Hassan Al-Qazwini is Imam of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan. Regarding videos critical of Islam on YouTube, Al-Qazwini said “Somehow, they [film makers] should be stopped. The U.S. response should be much more stronger than verbal condemnation. [To do otherwise has] broader ramifications for our troops, diplomats and Americans abroad.”
On 26 October 2012, U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ban in Manchester, Missouri of protests within 300 feet of a funeral one hour before and one hour after the funeral.
David Irving is an author. On 3 November 2012, David Irving was scheduled to speak at a hotel conference room in Portland, Oregon. Rose City Antifascists blocked the doors of at least one hotel and made telephone calls to at least one hotel in an effort to block the lecture. The lecture may have been held instead at a second hotel, or in a private residence.
Atheist Shoes is a shoe company in Berlin, Germany. Because orders delivered to the United States appeared to be lost in delivery more than orders delivered to other countries, the company conducted an experiment. On 21 November 2012, the company mailed 178 packages to 89 people in 49 states in the United States. Every recipient was sent two packages, one sealed with tape reading “ATHEIST” and the other sealed with tape with no writing on it. Similar packages were mailed to European addresses to serve as controls. The packages with the “ATHEIST” tape took three days longer in delivery on average, with one package arriving 37 days later. Nine “ATHEIST” packages disappeared, compared to one package without text. No European package experienced difficulties in delivery. Atheist Shoes no longer uses packing tape with their brand name on it when delivering to the United States.
Westboro Baptist Church is located in Topika, Kansas. On 15 December 2012 their website was hacked by Anonymous. Anonymous accused Westboro Baptist Church of desecrating the name of God, mangling the biblical text, practicing a pseudo-faith and a distorted faith, rewriting the words of His [God's] sacred scripture, violation of scripture (including Deuteronomy 5:18) and abusing the Holy Bible. Anonymous said that adultery indicates a woman has loose moral string which will progressively wither and fray. Anonymous said they are everywhere, and all-seeing, in the same sense as God. Anonymous said it would not not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with the Westboro Baptist Church because Anonymous is versed in the biblical text. Instead of debate, Anonymous told Westboro Baptist Church: “We will destroy you.”
Noah Steadman was a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts. Bard College celebrates Diversity Day. Steadman made two dozen posters with his email address on them. The posters asked readers to send him five benefits of diversity other than music and food. Steadman intended to compile the answers and conduct a workshop on the benefits of diversity. The posters were torn down and destroyed. Steadman attended a two-hour meeting where the poster was discussed, at which he was given less than two minutes to speak and was given implied threats of violence. Some replies to the posters were published on facebook: “Go punch him in the gut, then talk to him,” “I just consider this fucker fresh meat,” “Your very presence effectively oppresses the being of people of color,” “[a reward is offered] to to whoever gives this kid the best swift kick in the ass” and “Check [your] privilege, white boy.” When Steadman replied to the last message and called the writer an Indian boy, the writer of the ‘white boy’ message filed a formal complaint. Steadman was accused of harassing the other student and ordered to pay for and undergo psychological evaluation and diversity training (in addition to the cultural perspectives class all students must take and the mandated attendance at Diversity Day). Steadman was suspended for over a week while Bard College considered whether or not to expel him. Other replies to the posters took the form of incriminating forged posts on the internet using Steadman’s name. This resulted in Steadman being questioned by the police. The single reply to the posters that listed benefits of diversity were cut and pasted from a web site. Steadman was allowed to return to Bard College. Those who were to lead the workshops at Diversity Day boycotted the event because of “a document distributed by a student on campus questioning the value of diversity, and therein questioning our very existence and invalidating our lived experiences.”
On 14 January 2013, the Creve Coueur City Council of Missouri banned protests within 300 feet of “any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue, or other establishment or location during or within one (1) hour before or one (1) hour after any actual funeral or burial service at that place.”
Joseph Aziz was a student at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Aziz was a member of a student Libertarian club, which invited Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan to speak on campus on 20 September 2012. A man in the audience called Lonegan a racist, a fascist, and said that Lonegan was shameful. When Lonegan said his grandparents didn’t teach him Italian, the man in the audience said “I’m glad you lost your culture” and “I don’t give a racist any respect.” The man in the audience was not disciplined. The man in the audience’s girlfriend posted a youtube video titled “Steve Lonegan is a Racist.” Aziz commented that the man in the audience’s girlfriend had thighs that looked like “a pair of bleached hams.” Aziz was suspended by Montclair State University.
Timothy Dluhos was an employee of the Fire Department of New York. He posted images from his work with added comments on the internet. He also posted course comments on public figures on the internet. He was fired from his job. He owned two properly licensed rifles. The two rifles were seized by the State.
Justin Carter is a teenager living in Texas. In March 2013 Carter was talking about a computer game on facebook. His friend said ‘Oh you’re insane, you’re crazy, you’re messed up in the head.’ Carter replied ‘Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts. LOL JK.’ An unidentified woman in Canada saw Carter’s comment and used Google Street View to determine Carter lived next to a school. The unidentified woman in Canada reported Carter to the police in Texas. Carter was arrested for making threats. Carter has been been beaten in prison resulting in concussions, black eyes and being moved several times for his protection. Carter has been placed in solitary without clothing as a cure for his depression caused by being arrested and beaten. Carter faces eight to twenty years in prison for his comment.
John Mayer of Commack, New York, has a ten year old son. His son was reportedly overheard by a teacher saying he was going to someone’s house with a ‘water gun, a paint gun and BB gun.’ The teacher informed her principle, the principle informed the police, and the police took away Mayer’s gun license until his son moves out of his house.
Daniel McGowan is an environmental activist. In 2005 he was jailed, accused of the 1997 firebombing of a horsemeat processing plant in Redomond, Oregon. McGowan served his sentence and was placed in a halfway house. McGowan wrote an essay titled “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for My Political Speech” that was published in the Huffington Post. McGowan was sent back to prison for violating his probation by writing under a byline. McGowan was released the next day, this term of probation having been found unconstitutional in 2007.
Dan Pabon is a Democrat in Denver, Colorado. In April 2013 he sponsored a bill to prohibit withdrawal of money from an ATM by those on public assistance if the ATM is located in a strip club. A similar ban already exists for withdrawals in gun stores and liquor stores. The bill was defeated.
John Horgan is a teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He writes a blog hosted at Scientific American titled “Cross-Check / Critical Views of Science in the News.” For the 16 May 2013 edition of “Cross-Check” he asked “Should Research on Race and IQ Be Banned?” “Institutional review boards (IRBs), which must approve research involving human subjects carried out by universities and other organizations, should reject proposed research that will promote racial theories of intelligence, because the harm of such research – which fosters racism even if not motivated by racism – far outweighs any alleged benefits [...] Obviously I’m trying to eliminate research that reinforces rather than counteracting racism.”
Portland State University College Republicans (PSUCR) is a club on the campus of PSU in Portland, Oregon. In mid-May 2013 PSUCR was granted use of a display case and bulletin boards to advertise upcoming lectures and films sponsored by their club. All of the flyers posted on bulletin boards and in the display case were taken down, folded, and placed in the club’s meeting room with a note reading “You’re invited to stop being racist, sexist douchebags!” One of the films sponsored by the club was Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, shown on 30 May 2013. The film was disrupted by protestors, as was the discussion afterward. Members of the press who were making video of the disruption were involuntarily escorted off campus by campus security.
Bill Killian is U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Killian was interviewed by The Tullahoma News on 27 May 2013 about a public lecture to be held in June. “This is an educational effort with civil rights laws as they play into freedom of religion and exercising freedom of religion. This is also to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are.” Killian said online speech that violate civil rights are subject to federal jurisdiction. “That’s what everybody needs to understand.” Killian did not mention federal jurisdiction when freedom of speech and freedom of religion are in conflict.
Redneck Heaven is a restaurant and bar in Lewisville, Texas. Police investigated a complaint against Redneck Heaven and determined that the servers were wearing body paint and pasties. Police investigation further confirmed that no law was being broken by Redneck Heaven. The city council is considering requiring Redneck Heaven to obtain a Sexually Oriented Business permit. The city council has never granted a Sexually Oriented Business permit to any business within the city.
Sean McElwee is a writer for The Moderate Voice. On 12 July 2013 he wrote an article for AlterNet titled “The Case for Censoring Hate Speech.” “Consider the number of rapes that go unreported. Could this trend possibly be impacted by Reddit threads like /r/rapingwomen or /r/mensrights?” “[...] impugning someone because of their race, gender or orientation is not acceptable in a civil society. Banning hate speech is not a mechanism to further this debate because the debate is over.”
Matthew Green is a Professor of cryptography and research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. On 5 September 2013 he posted an essay titled “On the NSA” at his own site and at his work site. On 9 September 2013 he was directed by the John Hopkins dean of engineering to remove the essay from the internet. Green removed the essay from his work site but not his own site.
What is to be done:
1. If you have some measure of freedom of speech, use it. Use some of it to aid those who have less.
2. Another person’s freedom of speech can influence your mood and thought for a time. You remain capable of controlling your actions. If you are not capable of controlling your actions, seek professional help. If you meet someone who claims they are not capable of controlling their actions, take them at their word and view them with caution.
3. Uncouple the concepts “understand” and “agree.” You are not obliged to provide an audience to anyone.
4. The proper response to freedom of speech is more freedom of speech. The same smarts that allow a censor to experience speech and not be harmed are available to others.
5. Slaughter‘s Law: “When one person accuses another of ‘hiding behind the First Amendment,’ the first person is in the wrong, no matter what else they have to say.”
6. Attend to the words of bullies, reply with immutable courage heralded by cruel mockery. That goes double for bullies who blame their actions on an invisible monster that lives in the sky.