HSI, Class 11: Censorship & Ethics of Banning Books

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Ethics of Banning Books

Now, let’s look at a list of books that are commonly banned. As you can see, the reasons often deal with foul language, racism, sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, and homosexuality. Also, let’s take a few minutes to read this article about how challenged books have changed over the decades.

Here is a video summary of 10 commonly banned books.

It’s important to realize that religious books and references are sometimes challenged as well. The Bible is a commonly challenged book, for example, because of content that some people find hateful and violent toward other groups such as LGBT people.

The sides of the debate are typically either:

  • Pro-censorship: Protect children, protect integrity of character
  • Anti-censorship: Protect free speech, do not shelter children from reality

Let’s talk about what these arguments mean.

Class Discussion:

  • Have your parents tried to prohibit you from reading a particular book?
  • Have you experienced any book challenges at school?
  • What side do you fall on? Why?
  • Who has impacted your thoughts on this topic?
  • If you are more anti-censorship, then what limits, if any, should be in place at public schools and libraries?
  • If you are more pro-censorship, then what would it take for you to support a book ban at a public school or library?

Case Study: And Tango Makes Three

Now let’s explore a case study of book banning. We’ll watch the clip together and then you’ll write a post that answers the questions below.

The local public library has banned the children’s book And Tango Makes Three. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book follows the six years of their life where they formed a couple and were given an egg to raise.

Case Study: Thirteen Reasons Why

This book, which is now a Netflix series, was the top book on the banned books list this year. It’s about a teenage girl who commits suicide. There are many people who argue this series has been detrimental and harmful to teens, and others who have argued that this series has been helpful to teens.


Pick Out A Book At My Office!

Let’s walk over to my office in Ross Hall 435 and I’ll let you take a book home with you. While students are visiting my office in groups of 2-3, other students will be in Ross Hall 423 computer lab writing their blog posts on the questions below:

Blog Post: Book Banning

  1. Discuss both pro-censorship and anti-censorship viewpoints when it comes to book banning.
  2. What is your general opinion about book banning?
  3. Are book bans at local public library warranted or unwarranted? What about if the book ban was at a local public school? Does the place of the book ban make an impact on your views? Use the First Amendment to defend your opinions. That is, even if you want to ban the book, explain how the First Amendment protects this decision. If you want to allow the book, explain how the First Amendment protects this decision.
  4. Do you have any personal experiences with your own school or parents banning books?
  5. Can organizations, schools, and families really “ban books” in our time of the internet and social media?

About The Author

I'm a faculty member in Communication & Journalism at the University of Wyoming. At UW, I have taught online journalism, advanced new media, introduction to mass media, politics and media, and alternative media. At Ohio State, where I got my PhD, I taught research methods, news reporting and writing, visual communication, and persuasion. My reserach focuses on political communication, emerging media platforms, and entertainment media. In my spare time, I love to play with my daughters, hang out with my family, cook, hike, jog, read, and blog.