Banned Book Week 2014
In 1988 the case before The Supreme Court of Hustler Magazine and Larry C. Flynt, Petitioners v. Jerry Falwell was about the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that; “The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection. For it is a central tenet of the First Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas.”
If the Hollywood movie industry is any guide to a nations moral turpitude the moral outrage that led to The Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry (The Hays Code), probably also prevented the public distribution of magazines like the Hustler. The presumed moral intentions of the Founding Fathers perhaps suggests that the laws written to govern the morals of the nation, do not necessarily literally reflect what the Founding Fathers wrote into its Constitution. It may be no coincidence that the abandonment of The Production Code some 40 years ago, coincides with the rise in the public distribution of magazines such as Hustler and the 40th year of its publication. A Constitution written at the end of the 18th century, can hardly anticipate the circumstances prevailing some 200 years later at the end of the 20th century.
Banned Book Week 2014 again celebrates the freedom to read and also includes a number of videos, which also implies a freedom to watch. This year I discovered that Banned Book Week was an initiative of the Office for Intellectual Freedom. Censorship and intellectual freedom, particularly on the internet and social networks, are considered by the Office of Intellectual Freedom in the context of The First Amendment, which states – in part – that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. Despite this there is always pressure to legislate abridgements regarding the freedom of speech and the press. Censorship in the context of the Constitution of the United States gives it a clear time frame and point of reference, while Banned Book Week gives it a clear context.
In researching Banned Book Week 2014, I came across the work of Judith Krug (1940-2009). Judith Krug coordinated the effort against the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was the first attempt by the United States Congress to introduce a form of censorship of speech on the Internet. She strongly opposed the notion that libraries should censor the material that they provide to patrons. She supported laws and policies protecting the confidentiality of library use records. When the United States Department of Justice used the authority of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 to conduct searches of what once were confidential library databases, Krug raised a public outcry against this activity by the government.
In 2003, she was the leader of the initiative to challenge the constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Her efforts led to a partial victory for anti-censorship campaigners; the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the law was constitutional, but that filtering software on computers in public libraries could be turned off if so requested by an adult guardian. Krug warned that the filters used to censor Internet pornography from children were not perfect and risked blocking educational information about social matters, sexuality, and healthcare.
The moral turpitude of a contemporary society – with universal suffrage – is rarely the focus of any ‘popular moral demand’. Any demand for laws that determine a society’s morality, in most cases, involve a censorship that is popularized by a moral minority for imposition on an indifferent majority. That is, until any such censorship becomes challenged as being unconstitutional, invariably falling when the moral values of a society change. Until the second half of 20th century, particularly with respect to ‘morality‘, censorship was relatively easy for a government administration to enforce. However, mass media, and in particular social networks, now makes any form of censorship by government administrations virtually impossible to enforce without curtailing other freedoms.
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