Free speech battle never endsWritten by Paulette D. Kilmer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Apparently, no books were removed, and no list of titles has materialized. Nevertheless, Mayor Palin’s actions demand close scrutiny because the foundation of our democracy rests on reading and thinking freely. Our public servants are elected to protect the rights of the people, even when those freedoms are inconvenient.
Palin’s quest to cull the library collection originated from religious objections, according to the Sept. 2 TIME Magazine. This injection of religious beliefs into public policy violates the Founding Fathers’ rule and the American heritage of the separation of church and state to thwart the establishment of a theocracy.
I received an e-mail from a man who advised me to consider Palin’s attempts to ban books insignificant because skeletons rattle in all politicians’ closets. That may be true, but this particular bag of bones touches on our First Amendment right to freedom of expression. If we cannot read authors considered loathsome to government officials, we cannot learn new ideas nor understand views not sanctioned by the status quo.
Palin may have acted without thinking about the consequences of her choices, but those decisions place her in the ranks of book banners, including U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin. He launched the witchhunt to expose communists in the 1950s that resulted in many innocent people losing their livelihood and in a few instances their lives. The Nazis burned books. Although Palin is not a fascist, her efforts to restrict her constituents’ reading suggests some extreme far-right leanings. Either she thoughtlessly acted to placate her own or her friends’ religious views, or she hoped to control people’s thoughts through limiting their opportunities to learn about things she opposed.
Opposition to literature is an old story. Most people know that James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and John Cleland’s “Fanny Hill” have been banned. Few realize that the zeal to remove books has included such cultural treasures as the U.S. Constitution, the Torah, the Bible, the Quran and even the dictionary.
Politicians like Palin reflect an alarming swing toward conformity, bigotry and self-righteousness. In a nation built upon the concept of a marketplace of ideas, censorship narrows the grand public conversation. The free flow of insights dwindles to a predictable trickle of the party line. Unfortunately, the rigid thinkers among Palin’s supporters find channels on the Internet for suppressing public access to information. If the facts contradict pet notions, believers often refuse to accept the truth that reporters and other hard-working journalists reveal.
The quest for justice forces all of us to review our responsibilities as U.S. citizens, beginning with holding the government accountable. That is the “American way” — a phrase I hesitate to use because frequently fanatics have invoked it to suggest a smug assumption of superiority based on false claims of patriotism.
The battle for the First Amendment is never won.
Paulette Kilmer is a professor in the communication department at UT.