Why secularists should care about Banned Books Week

books lined up

As we observe Banned Books Week Oct. 1–7, book bans are on an alarming and unprecedented rise. Secular Americans must spread awareness and fight back against such bans and censorship.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is deeply familiar with the haunting history of censorship: from the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, to the Comstock Act rearing its ugly head again, to the Nazi book burnings, attacks against books by authors such Charles Darwin and literal attacks against authors such as Salman Rushdie and Avijit Roy. Heinrich Heine famously observed, “Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings.” History never looks kindly upon book burners or censors.

FFRF advocates, above all, for freedom of thought. We oppose banning books from public schools and libraries. There’s no true freedom of thought, conscience or even religion, unless our government and its public schools and libraries are free from religion and its control over thought.

Schools and public libraries are obligated to cultivate an environment that honors and welcomes diverse viewpoints. We must trust students and library patrons to explore complex topics for themselves and decide which books to read. Reading takes time, and understanding books critically takes even more thought. Those who propose book bans fear free inquiry and independence of thought.

Many of the books that book banners label as inappropriate or dangerous are books with significant and well-recognized literary value, such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. The Field Report’s list of the Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022 shows that children’s and young adult books pertaining to race, gender and sexual identity are the titles most targeted.

Much of the book-banning impetus is ultimately a manufactured witch hunt by self-righteous grandstanders hostile to critical thinking, such as the Orwellian-named Moms for Liberty, which circulates preselected lists of books and quotes. In short, the current wave of book banning isn’t about protecting children, it’s about discouraging thought, especially thought that is antithetical to Christian nationalist ideology.

FFRF has fought back against hypocritical book banning in public school districts by demanding that schools that ban books for so-called inappropriate graphic or sexual content also ban the bible. School districts must either ban the bible — an X-rated book — based on the criteria used to ban other books with similar sexual and violent content, or cease banning books and return banned books to school shelves.

Banned Books Week annually highlights the value of free and open access to information and culminates in Let Freedom Read Day on Oct. 7, where individuals are asked to take at least one small action to defend books from censorship.

With all this in mind, FFRF encourages you to commemorate Banned Books Week with activism. This toolkit lists personal activism that takes but a few minutes, including:

  • Letting your local school boards and representatives know that you are against book banning and censorship.
  • Donating books to Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood.
  • Buying or checking out banned books, and participating in your public library’s banned book week events.

As the slogan goes, let freedom read!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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