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Joint Statement in Opposition to Book Censorship in Tucson Unified School District

A Joint Statement in Opposition to Book Censorship in Tucson Unified School District.

The undersigned organizations are committed to protecting free speech and intellectual freedom. We write to express our deep concern about the removal of books used in the Mexican-American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. This occurred in response to a determination by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the program “contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people” and that “materials repeatedly reference white people as being ‘oppressors….’ in violation of state law.” The books have been boxed up and put in storage; their fate and that of the program remain in limbo.

The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress “an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” School officials have a great deal of authority and discretion to determine the curriculum, the subject of courses, and even methods of instruction. They are restrained only by the constitutional obligation to base their decisions on sound educational grounds, and not on ideology or political or other personal beliefs. Thus, school officials are free to debate the merits of any educational program, but that debate does not justify the wholesale removal of books, especially when the avowed purpose is to suppress unwelcome information and viewpoints.

School officials have insisted that the books haven’t been banned because they are still available in school libraries. It is irrelevant that the books are available in the library—or at the local bookstore. School officials have removed materials from the curriculum, effectively banning them from certain classes, solely because of their content and the messages they contain. The effort to “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, [or] religion” is the essence of censorship, whether the impact results in removal of all the books in a classroom, seven books, or only one.

Students deserve an education that provides exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial. Their education has already suffered from this political and ideological donnybrook, which has caused massive disruption in their classes and will wreak more havoc as teachers struggle to fill the educational vacuum that has been created.

Book-banning and thought control are antithetical to American law, tradition and values. In Justice Louis Brandeis's famous words, the First Amendment is founded on the belief:

that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; … that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination …. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, [the Framers] eschewed silence coerced by law …. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

The First Amendment right to read, speak and think freely applies to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or national origin. We strongly urge Arizona school officials to take this commitment seriously and to return all books to classrooms and remove all restrictions on ideas that can be addressed in class.

American Association of University Professors

Cary Nelson, President

1133 19th St., NW, Suite 200

Washington, D.C. 20036


American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Chris Finan, President

19 Fulton Street, Suite 407

New York, NY 10038


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona

Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director

P.O. Box 17148

Phoenix, AZ 85011-0148


Antigone Books

Trudy Mills and Kate Randall, Owners

411 N. 4th Ave.

Tucson, AZ 85705


Association of American Publishers

Judith Platt

Director, Free Expression Advocacy

455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20001


Association of American University Presses

Peter Givler, Executive Director

28 West 36th Street, Suite 602

New York, NY 10018


Atalanta’s Music & Books

Joan Werner, Owner

38 Main Street

Bisbee, AZ 85603


Authors Guild

Paul Aiken, Executive Director

31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor

New York, NY 10016


Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking

Dr. Kathryn F. Whitmore, President

N275 Lindquist Center

The University of Iowa

Iowa City, IA 52242


Changing Hands Bookstore

Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer and Cindy Dach, Owners

6428 S McClintock Drive

Tempe, AZ 85283


Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Charles Brownstein, Executive Director

255 West 36th Street, Suite 501

New York, NY 10018


Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliate of the American Library Association

Barbara M. Jones, Executive Director

50 East Huron Street

Chicago, IL 60611


International Reading Association

Richard M. Long, Ed.D.,

Director, Government Relations

444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 524

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 624-8801

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association

Laura Ayrey, Executive Director

8020 Springshire Drive

Park City, UT 84098


National Coalition Against Censorship

Joan Bertin, Executive Director

19 Fulton Street, Suite 407

New York, NY 10038


National Council for the Social Studies

Susan Griffin, Executive Director

8555 16th St, Ste 500

Silver Spring, MD 20910

301.588.1800 x 103

National Council of Teachers of English

Millie Davis

Senior Developer, Affiliated Groups and Public Outreach

1111 West Kenyan Road

Urbana, IL 61801

800-369-6283 ext. 3634

National Youth Rights Association

Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director

1101 15th Street, NW Suite 200

Washington, DC 20005


PEN American Center

Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs

588 Broadway

New York, NY 10012

212-334-1660 ext. 105

PEN Center USA

Adam Somers, Executive Director

P.O. Box 6037

Beverly Hills, CA 90212


People For the American Way

Debbie Liu, General Counsel

1101 15th Street NW, Suite 600

Washington, D.C. 20005


Reach Out and Read

Anne-Marie Fitzgerald

Senior Director of National and State Programs

56 Roland Street, Suite 100D

Boston, MA 02129


Reading is Fundamental, Inc.

Carol Hampton Rasco, President/CEO

1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC 20037


Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Lin Oliver, Executive Director

8271 Beverly Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90048


Spark Teacher Education Institute

Educational Praxis, Inc.

P.O. Box 409

Putney, Vermont 05346


Student Press Law Center

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director

1101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100

Arlington, VA 22209-2275 USA


TESOL International Association

John Segota, CAE

Associate Executive Director for Public Policy & Professional Relations

1925 Ballenger Ave., Suite 550

Alexandria, VA 22314