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Threats to free speech come from the left, too. Yes, they do.

May 11, 2010

John Milton

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 11, 2010 12:53 pm

    Righto, Chauncey Mabe. I remember when they wanted to take “Huckleberry Finn” off library shelves because it contained the “n” word and I remember Tipper Gore. Thank goodness for the ACLU who, in my lifetime anyway, seems to pretty much always come down on the good side (be it left or right).

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 11, 2010 2:51 pm

      Yes, Huckleberry Finn is a supremely apt example, because a bolder fictional statement of racial equality can hardly be named. For one thing, Jim is the only decent adult in the entire book, and for another, the scene in which Huck, his heart wrestling with his conscience, decides to go to Hell rather than betray Jim, is the single greatest scene in American literature.

      • Candice Simmons permalink
        May 11, 2010 3:17 pm

        I agree. Oh no, and I’m never supposed to AGREE with you.

  2. Tommy Smart permalink
    May 11, 2010 2:21 pm

    More than a few “we”s and “our”s in today’s blog.

    I do not count myself as part of the “left”, “right”, “far left”, “far right” or “center”, nor do I want to be defined as part of the “way out” or “in” crowd. Don’t fence me in. I do not want to be divided and destroyed, alienated or participate in tribalism.

    I could flatter my self on my moral and intellectual superiority by sniggering at Beverly Marinelli, but then I would feel inferior.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 11, 2010 2:54 pm

      Way back when I was religious (and not only religious, but Baptist), I heard this little joke frequently from the pulpit. During the Civil War, with the Union and Confederate soldiers arrayed for battle in a field, a man leapt on the fence separating the lines and cried, “Brothers! Can’t we put down our guns and find a way to peace? We are all Americans!” Punchline: He was shot from both sides.

  3. John Karwacki permalink
    May 11, 2010 8:44 pm

    Love the Milton quote. Voltaire said, “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privelidge to do so, too.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every burned book enlightens the world.” And Harry Belephonte said, “You can cage the singer but not the song.” So we live with those we disagree with, even despicable and criminal types, in order to enjoy our freedom. “Ain’t that a kick in the head.”

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 12, 2010 12:15 am

    That about sums it up, John. I like the Voltaire quote, and Candide is one of my favorite books

  5. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 12, 2010 8:37 am

    By the way, I finally got my library card for Rocky Mount. Woo Hoo! Not so good for Barnes & Noble though.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 12, 2010 9:34 am

      Don’t pass up any opportunity to thank a librarian whenever you’re there. Like teachers, they are among the underpaid and disregarded heroes of democracy.

  6. May 12, 2010 9:36 am

    Excellent post, Chauncey Mabe. And brave. Now you too will be attacked. Possibly like Scott Savage. See: “Persecuted Librarian Censored Again,” by Scott Savage, WorldNetDaily, 9 May 2006.

  7. May 12, 2010 9:39 am

    May there be many more like Lanora Hurley. The industry needs people like her. Real and making a point. This is a person where censorship is very much on her mind and personal. Race should not matter, politics should not matter, ideas about personal content should not matter when a book is put into a store or if it is put in a store. (Rove should be allowed to sign) Is it quality? Is it what people may want? . Does it have a message for people? These should be the questions. If you have these things, it will sell and the owner will make money. Though an owner may have all the rights on his side to do all. It to me is _________. I will not use the ‘C” word I promise.

  8. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 12, 2010 10:48 am

    So how stupid is Sarah Palin’s new book going to be?

  9. May 12, 2010 2:41 pm

    No words to describe that Candice.

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