Book censorship in the United States

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Book censorship is the suppression of books considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient. It has been carried out in several localities in the United States with is strong lobbying from various groups and organizations to have certain books banned from libraries.[1] In response, several professional organizations such as the American Library Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation have employed various initiatives to help combat book censorship in all its forms.

Reasons for censorship[edit]

Often times challenges to certain books are motivated to protect children from "inappropriate" sexual content or "offensive" language.

The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:

  1. the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
  2. the material contained "offensive language"
  3. the material was "unsuited to any age group"[2]

List of censored books[edit]

The American Library Association, specifically the Office of Intellectual Freedom, has since 1990 maintained a list of books that have at some point in history been banned or censored in the United States (though none of the titles below are banned today).[3]

Specific cases[edit]

  • In August 1939, the Board of Supervisors of Kern County, California passed a resolution to ban The Grapes of Wrath from county libraries and schools. The head librarian of the Kern County Free Library, Gretchen Knief, despite personal protest to the supervisors, complied with the ban. The ban is said to have been largely a product of the infrastructure of a county whose economy relied heavily upon agriculture, and Knief’s compliance, a contemporary lack of official support from the field of librarianship. The ban was rescinded in 1941.[20]
  • Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States.[21] In 1981 it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.[22] According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the tenth most frequently challenged book from 1990–1999.[23] It was one of the ten most challenged books of 2005[24] and although it had been off the list for three years, it reappeared in the list of most challenged books of 2009.[25] The challenges generally begin with Holden's frequent use of vulgar language,[26][27] with other reasons including sexual references,[28] blasphemy, undermining of family values[27] and moral codes,[29] Holden's being a poor role model,[30] encouragement of rebellion,[31] and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity.[29] Often the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself.[21] Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher who faced objections after assigning the novel in her class, noted that the challengers "are being just like Holden... They are trying to be catchers in the rye."[27] A reverse effect has been that this incident caused people to put themselves on the waiting list to borrow the novel, when there were none before.[32]
  • Flowers for Algernon is on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999 at number 43.[33] The reasons for the challenges vary, but usually center on those parts of the novel in which Charlie struggles to understand and express his sexual desires.[34] Many of the challenges have proved unsuccessful, but the book has occasionally been removed from school libraries, including some in Pennsylvania and Texas.[34][35]
  • Mummy Laid an Egg under the title Mommy Laid an Egg was listed as number 82 in the American Library Association's "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000".[36]
  • Operation Dark Heart, a 2010 memoir by U.S. Army intelligence officer Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer, is notable for the lengths the U.S. Defense Department went in an attempt to censor information revealed within after the book had already been distributed free of redactions.
  • In 2003 the children's book The Family Book was removed from the curriculum of the Erie, Illinois school system due to the book's representation of same sex families.[37]
  • In October 2006, a resident of Marshall, Missouri attempted to have the graphic novels Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Blankets by Craig Thompson removed from the Marshall Public Library.
  • Barney Rosset, led a successful legal battle to publish the uncensored version of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, and later was the American publisher of Henry Miller's controversial novel Tropic of Cancer.
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain is listed by the American Library Association as the 5th most banned book in the U.S. due to supposed racism as late as 2007. NewSouth Books received media attention for publishing an expurgated edition of the work that censored the words nigger and Injun. A parent in a school district in Arizona failed to have the work banned from the high school curriculum in a case that reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Monteiro v. The Tempe Union High School District (1998).
  • King & King, a controversial children's book that portrayed LGBT themes in a positive light.
  • Ruth Brown, a librarian accused of providing "subversive" materials to the public and indoctrinating children against the principles of America.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ About banned & challenged books. American Library Association. Retrieved from
  2. ^ "About Banned & Challenged Books | Banned & Challenged Books". Retrieved 2016-04-03. 
  3. ^ "100 most frequently challenged books by decade". 
  4. ^ a b c d "Banned Books Online". Penn University.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "b2" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ "Books: A- I That Have Been Censored, Banned or Challenged". 
  6. ^ Grannis, Chandler B.; Haight, Anne (Lyon) (1978). Banned books, 387 B. C. to 1978 A. D. New York: R. R. Bowker. p. 80. ISBN 0-8352-1078-2. 
  7. ^ See also footnote 1, United States v. Schiff, 2008-1 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) paragr. 50,111 (9th Cir. 2007), citing United States v. Schiff, 379 F.3d 621, 630 (9th Cir. 2004), regarding the Court's finding that the book The Federal Mafia: How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes constituted "fraudulent commercial speech."
  8. ^ Karolides, Nicholas J. (2006). Banned Books : Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 57–71. ISBN 0-8160-6270-6. 
  9. ^ Dawn B. Sova (August 2006). Literature suppressed on sexual grounds. Infobase Publishing. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-0-8160-6272-0. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Sova, Dawn B. (c. 2006). Banned Books : Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds. New York, NY: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-6272-2. 
  11. ^ Banned Books | Online Sociology Degree News and Information. Retrieved on 2012-01-21.
  12. ^ "Banned Books Online". 
  13. ^ The People's Almanac Presents The Book of Lists. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell. 1978. p. 326. ISBN 0-553-11150-7. 
  14. ^ Search – Global Edition – The New York Times. International Herald Tribune (2009-03-29). Retrieved on 2012-01-21.
  15. ^ Singh, Tejinder (September 28, 2010). "Pentagon Confirms Destruction Of 9,500 Copies Of Book Containing 'Intelligence Secrets'". AHN. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  16. ^ From Henry Miller to Howard Stern, by Patti Davis, Newsweek, March, 2004
  17. ^ Hubbard, Melissa A. "Monday's Banned Book Spotlight: The Store Behind Banning Ulysses". Southern Illinois University School of Law Library. Retrieved 14 November 2009. 
  18. ^ Karolides, Nicholas J. (2006). Banned Books : Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-6270-6. 
  19. ^ Prados, John; Meadows, Eddie; Burr, William; Evans, Michael (5 June 2001). "The Pentagon Papers: Secrets, Lies, and Audiotapes". The National Security Archive. The George Washington University. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  20. ^ Lingo, M. (2003). Forbidden fruit: The banning of 'The Grapes of Wrath' in the Kern County Free Library. Libraries & Culture, 4, 351. doi:10.2307/25549126
  21. ^ a b "In Cold Fear: 'The Catcher in the Rye', Censorship, Controversies and Postwar American Character. (Book Review)". Modern Language Review. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  22. ^ Sylvia Andrychuk (2004-02-17). "A History of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye" (PDF). p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-12-19. During 1981 The Catcher in the Rye had the unusual distinction of being the most frequently censored book in the United States, and, at the same time, the second-most frequently taught novel in American public schools. 
  23. ^ "The 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999". American Library Association. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  24. ^ "Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2005". American Library Association. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  25. ^ "Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009". American Library Association. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  26. ^ "Art or trash? It makes for endless, unwinnable debate". The Topeka Capital-Journal. 1997-10-06. Retrieved 2007-12-20. Another perennial target, J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," was challenged in Maine because of the "f" word. 
  27. ^ a b c Seth Mydans (1989-09-03). "In a Small Town, a Battle Over a Book". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  28. ^ Ben MacIntyre (2005-09-24). "The American banned list reveals a society with serious hang-ups". The Times. London. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  29. ^ a b Helen Frangedis (November 1988). "Dealing with the Controversial Elements in The Catcher in the Rye". The English Journal. The English Journal, Vol. 77, No. 7. 77 (7): 72–75. doi:10.2307/818945. JSTOR 818945. The foremost allegation made against Catcher is... that it teaches loose moral codes; that it glorifies... drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, and more. 
  30. ^ Anna Quindlen (1993-04-07). "Public & Private; The Breast Ban". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-20. "The Catcher in the Rye" is perennially banned because Holden Caulfield is said to be an unsuitable role model. 
  31. ^ Yilu Zhao (2003-08-31). "Banned, But Not Forgotten". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-20. The Catcher in the Rye, interpreted by some as encouraging rebellion against authority... 
  32. ^ Whitfield, Stephen (December 1997). "Cherished and Cursed: Toward a Social History of The Catcher in the Rye" (PDF). The New England Quarterly. 70 (4): 567–600. doi:10.2307/366646. JSTOR 366646. Retrieved 2012-11-02
     :Reprinted in Bloom, Harold, ed. (2001). J. D. Salinger. Bloom's BioCritiques. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. pp. 77–105. ISBN 0-7910-6175-2. 
  33. ^ The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–1999
  34. ^ a b Hill 2004, pp. 7–9
  35. ^ Jodi Mathews (1999-06-22). "Controversial book removed from Texas middle school after one parent complains". Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  36. ^ "The 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990–2000". American Library Association. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  37. ^ "Controversial Decision in Erie Gathering National Attention". WQAD 8. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 

External links[edit]