Observing the right to freely read
Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" (Abingdon Press, 2017) and vice president of the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.
Last week marked Banned Books Week (October 1-7, 2023).
The essence of the week represents a shared responsibility to preserve democratic values and oppose efforts to hinder knowledge. It is an observance that exposes citizens to the information and autonomy necessary to formulate their viewpoints and make well-informed decisions, reinforcing the building blocks of a functioning democracy.
Banned Books Week invites reflection on the problem of prohibiting books that have resurfaced in our country. A critical examination of the banning movement reveals an effort fueled by a minute fringe group antithetical towards BIPOC+ (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color+) and LGBTI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex+) writers, readers, and themes. The act of book banning contradicts our First Amendment rights -- the freedom to abstain and engage with texts as individuals choose.
One must recognize books' integral role when reflecting on history. They impart knowledge, broaden perspectives, and foster critical thinking. Literature transcends geographical boundaries and cultural differences, enabling a deeper understanding of ourselves and those around us.
It is essential to examine why certain groups are advocating for book bans. Historically speaking and still relevant today, banned books often contain content deemed controversial or threatening to specific segments of society. Defenders of book bans often use fear-based tactics with language such as "protecting children" or "preserving values" to maintain their version of order and morality without considering diverse perspectives on sensitive issues.
Even more alarming is how this banning movement disproportionately targets BIPOC+ and LGBTI+ writers and narratives. In turn, it undermines the much-needed representation these communities deserve. As a society that champions diversity and inclusion, we must ensure that marginalized voices are heard rather than silenced.
The First Amendment is the cultural cornerstone of the values of freedom of speech and expression. Inherent in that right is our ability to choose what we read without unnecessary restrictions imposed upon us by others. A request that encompasses acknowledging and defending the freedom of others to abstain from engaging with particular works if they so choose.
While parents and educators must regularly make decisions based on the moral principles they follow, they should also be aware of the societal consequences of suffocating diverse perspectives in literature. Engaging in open conversations regarding sensitive subjects breeds empathy rather than perpetuating discriminatory misconceptions.
Book banning is an assault on the First Amendment and intellectual inquiry. It is a dangerous precedent that threatens individual thought and diminishes our shared cultural expression, which makes us united in our differences. Last week's observance is a respectful act of resistance in opposition to censorship and responsible expression of civic participation.