Thursday, September 27, 2012

I read banned books | First Amendment Center – news, commentary, analysis on free speech, press, religion, assembly, petition

I read banned books | First Amendment Center – news, commentary, analysis on free speech, press, religion, assembly, petition

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I read banned books

Every year, I celebrate the return of fall not with apple cider or football games, but instead with a nice, juicy read. The badder, the better. Preferably banned — or at least challenged.

I’ve always been an avid reader, staying up past my bedtime as a kid and still as an adult, but I never really thought about my right to read until I started working at the First Amendment Center and observed my first Banned Books Week. In 1998, I decided I would read a banned book every year just because I live in a country where I can.

It also prompted me to read new works and re-read old favorites. I started that first year with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a classic that I could just kick myself for not reading in high school. Year after year, every September, I’d seek out titles from the most-challenged lists: The Color Purple, the entire Harry Potter series, The Lovely Bones, Brave New World, The Catcher in the Rye, Where the Wild Things Are and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

This year, I let Nashville Mayor Karl Dean pick my book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is both a challenged book and the first title chosen in the new Nashville Reads citywide book club. Mayor, you made a good choice. It was even better the second time around.

My relationship with edgier material used to be pure — I believed we should read whatever we want, whenever we want. Then I had children.

I must admit I squirmed when my 10-year-old son brought home The Hunger Games last year.  I had read the series, anticipating my kids would want to read what everyone else was raving about, but thought it a little too violent for my pre-teens. Then I remembered my own childhood and the fact that my mother never censored my reading material, and in fact encouraged me to read anything and everything.  She was probably just happy that if I was reading, I was staying out of trouble. I try to remember that lesson when my own kids giggle as they read Mad magazine under the covers, past their bedtimes. I was once that child, but I think I preferred Cracked.

My children are voracious readers, all known by name at our local library branch. They’ll be there on Oct. 6, participating in a Banned Books Week event by reading aloud from the first Harry Potter book. I’ll be there, probably videotaping them and definitely beaming with pride.

But enough about me: What are you going to do for Banned Books Week? The 30th annual celebration is Sept. 30 — Oct. 6. Below are some resources to get you started.

Banned Books Week

Frequently challenged classics

American Library Association’s Banned Books Week page

Bookmans video for Banned Books Week Virtual Read-out

Mapping censorship

Also see: Banned Books Week: defending our freedom to read

Whoopi Goldberg joins Banned Books Week read-out

Blogger defends Banned Books Week

Banned books

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The First Amendment Center is an educational organization and cannot provide legal advice.

Ken Paulson is president and chief executive officer of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and in Washington, D.C. Previously, Paulson served as the editor and senior vice president/news of USA Today.

Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, is a veteran journalist whose career has included work in newspapers, radio, television and online.

John Seigenthaler founded the First Amendment Center in 1991 with the mission of creating national discussion, dialogue and debate about First Amendment rights and values.

Dr. Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life.

David L. Hudson Jr. is a scholar at the First Amendment Center. Hudson writes for and for other publications devoted to First Amendment issues.

Tiffany Villager is director/First Amendment studies at the First Amendment Center, which she joined in 1993. She also served as the center’s research manager and research coordinator, and developed the center’s library.

About The First Amendment Center

We support the First Amendment and build understanding of its core freedoms through education, information and entertainment.

The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

Founded by John Seigenthaler, the First Amendment Center is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. The center has offices in the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The center’s programs, including the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, provide education and information to the public and groups including First Amendment scholars and experts, educators, government policy makers, legal experts and students. The center is nonpartisan and does not lobby, litigate or provide legal advice. See First Amendment Center Fact Sheet and FAQs. See internships info.

The center’s website,, is one of the most authoritative sources of news, information and commentary in the nation on First Amendment issues. It features daily updates on news about First Amendment-related developments, as well as detailed reports about U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the First Amendment, and commentary, analysis and special reports on free expression, press freedom and religious-liberty issues. Support the work of the First Amendment Center.

1 For All

1 for All is a national nonpartisan program designed to build understanding and support for First Amendment freedoms. 1 for All provides teaching materials to the nation’s schools, supports educational events on America’s campuses and reminds the public that the First Amendment serves everyone, regardless of faith, race, gender or political leanings. It is truly one amendment for all. Visit 1 for All at

Help tomorrow’s citizens find their voice: Teach the First Amendment

The most basic liberties guaranteed to Americans – embodied in the 45 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – assure Americans a government that is responsible to its citizens and responsive to their wishes.

These 45 words are as alive and important today as they were more than 200 years ago. These liberties are neither liberal nor conservative, Democratic nor Republican – they are the basis for our representative democratic form of government.

We know from studies beginning in 1997 by the nonpartisan First Amendment Center, and from studies commissioned by the Knight Foundation and others, that few adult Americans or high school students can name the individual five freedoms that make up the First Amendment.

The lesson plans – drawn from materials prepared by the Newseum and the First Amendment Center – will draw young people into an exploration of how their freedoms began and how they operate in today’s world. Students will discuss just how far individual rights extend, examining rights in the school environment and public places. The lessons may be used in history and government, civics, language arts and journalism, art and debate classes. They may be used in sections or in their entirety. Many of these lesson plans indicate an overall goal, offer suggestions on how to teach the lesson and list additional resources and enrichment activities.

See more about lesson plans.

First Amendment Moot Court Competition

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the cornerstone of American democracy – is the focus of the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition. Recognized as one of the nation's finest constitutional-law competitions, this annual event features a current First Amendment controversy.

During the two-day competition in February, each team will participate in a minimum of four rounds, arguing a hypothetical based on a current First Amendment controversy before panels of accomplished jurists, legal scholars and attorneys.

Past participants in the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition have represented law schools nationwide, from Brooklyn Law School to Duke University to Arizona State to Harvard.

The 23rd Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition is Feb. 21-22, 2013. See registration information and details about the competition.

State of the First Amendment survey reports

The State of the First Amendment surveys, commissioned since 1997 by the First Amendment Center and Newseum, are a regular check on how Americans view their first freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion and petition.

The periodic surveys examine public attitudes toward freedom of speech, press, religion and the rights of assembly and petition; and sample public opinion on contemporary issues involving those freedoms. See the reports.

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