Threats to free speech come from the left, too. Yes, they do.
It’s great sport for liberals when some conservative figure tries to ban a book or otherwise suppress freedom of expression. Censorship! we cry, savoring our self-righteous dudgeon. But what do we say when the impulse to oppress free speech comes from our side?
We all had a jolly laugh yesterday at the expense of Tina Harden, the Orlando mom who refused to return some racy Young Adult novels to her local library for two years.
And in today’s news, we could flatter ourselves on our moral and intellectual superiority by sniggering at Beverly Marinelli, a New Jersey grandma who led the blitz to ban an award-winning book by and for gay teens from a local high school.
The decision to pull Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, makes for even more delicious indignation when we learn that Marinelli is a member of the 912 Project.
That’s the promotional campaign — er, grassroots organization — started by Glenn Beck of Fox News, a true ogre of the right.
Once again, as in the Harden example, librarians strive to stand against the rightist forces of censorship.
“Librarians are trained to select resources unfettered by our personal, political, social, or religious views,” school librarian Dee Venuto told Monica Yant Kinney of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “If that book comes off the shelf, I don’t know what will happen. When we start opening those doors, how do we close them?”
Indeed. But while we’re nursing our lovely outrage at Beck and his followers, let’s consider the plight of Milwaukee bookstore owner Lanora Hurley, who’s facing threatened boycotts from longtime customers.
Why? Because she dared to announce a Karl Rove signing at her store, Next Chapter Bookshop, Next Chapter Bookshop, for May 23.
Rove is on tour promoting Courage and Consequences, his insider’s defense — er, account– of the Bush administration. Almost immediately nasty comments started showing up at JSOnline, the website for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Guess I won’t be shopping there anymore,” wrote one disgruntled customer. “I have spent my last penny in that shop!” chimed in another.
Hurely’s response shows how bookstore owners are second only to librarians as defenders of free expression.
“I just wanted to say to you that the whole point of an independent bookstore is to be a place that protects the First Amendment and allows the public to have access to whatever (legal) materials they would like,” wrote Hurley in response. “I do not agree with every author that comes to my store, nor do I feel it is my right to restrict what books my customers want to buy. I am hoping that my store can be the host to ideas from all over the spectrum.”
We’ve now come to the John Milton portion of our program, in case you’re wondering why the author of Paradise Lost adorns this column. Milton is one of the great heroes of free speech, his Areopagitica (1644) remains among the most important declarations in favor of freedom of expression ever written.
“[A]s good almost kill a man as kill a good book,” Milton declared nearly 500 years ago. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.”
As we will always dispute what constitutes a “good” book, all books must be defended alike. And liberals, if I may be so bold, are advised to not only preach tolerance, but also to practice it.