Censorship: the Progression of How and Why Books are Challenged


CNN recently came out with an article listing the most challenged books of 2014. Novels such as “Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, both turned into popular movies, were among those on the list.

Censorship is not a new idea, as it has been around since about 400 BC when the Roman Republic created the Office of Censor. However, it became prevalent in the United States during the early 1900s. There were books that were banned before this era, such as “Fanny Hill” written in 1748, but the 1900s saw a huge increase in the challenging of published work.

In 1921, “Ulysses” was banned. This was one of the first noted instances of a book being challenged and then banned in America. This led to other books being challenged in later years, such as Judy Blume novels about the transition to young adulthood.

Courtesy of ABC
Courtesy of ABC

Besides the actual act of novels being banned, there were cases and legislation passed in the United States as well. In 1973, obscenity was defined in the case Miller v. California. 1978 saw the indecency standard created with the Supreme Court case FCC. v. Pacifica based off of the “seven dirty words” television program. Lastly, the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was written and a few years later came COPA.

This brings up the question of why certain books are challenged and/or banned. So why are so many books around the world challenged? Due to three reasons: obscenity, indecency and profanity. The definitions of these three words and the power they hold over published literature are outlined in the above Supreme Court cases.

Yet, for each book that is challenged or banned in the United States, there are a group of people that protest the decision. In Colorado just last year, when Jefferson County school board members changed the AP History curriculum, students and teachers protested, according to the Washington Post. Students and teachers alike walked out of schools, created petitions, and in the end gained national attention.

Courtesy of Daily Kos
Courtesy of Daily Kos

2015’s annual Banned Book Week takes place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, so be sure to spend the next few months reading up on banned books in preparation for the big week – especially the CNN article that lists the current most challenged books of 2014.


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