Heated debates over “book banning” have dominated the headlines this past year, with many parents around the country pushing back against what their children are reading in their school libraries.
Discussing what’s age appropriate and what belongs in the classroom is hardly the same thing as “banning” a book. Yet the parents and political officials who’ve raised these questions are often portrayed as paranoid rubes who must be racist or transphobic – or something bad.
Those leading the charge against this kind of book banning are progressives, who often work in publishing and the media.
So I read with surprise about how some of those same folks have tried to preemptively ban an upcoming book from Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
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Censorship for thee, not for me
The reason? Because of her vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Apparently, that decision has made a sitting Supreme Court justice worthy of censoring and ostracizing.
That strikes me as both hypocritical and dangerous. If anyone should understand the importance of exposure to differing views and ideas, it should be those in the publishing business.
Luckily, Penguin Random House’s conservative printing house Sentinel said this week that it will not reverse course on Barrett’s $2 million book deal, despite a letter signed by more than 700 individuals from publishing houses, authors and members of the media. The letter was even signed by a librarian with the Library of Congress.
Barrett agreed to the book deal early last year. She’s expected to write about the judiciary’s role and “how judges are not supposed to bring their personal feelings into how they rule.”
Those clamoring to ban Barrett’s book referred to this as a situation where a “corporation has privately funded the destruction of human rights with obscene profits.”
“As such, we are calling on Penguin Random House to recognize its own history and corporate responsibility commitments by reevaluating its decision to move forward with publishing Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s forthcoming book,” the letter states.
Ironically, the letter’s supporters claim to “care deeply about freedom of speech.” Yet, they “recognize that harm is done to a democracy not only in the form of censorship, but also in the form of assault on inalienable human rights.”
The letter pays lip service to how abortion rights are “fundamental” and backed by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document that does not mention abortion or reproductive rights.
Other conservatives have faced backlash
Never mind that Barrett did not make the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling alone, nor did she even write the opinion.
The court did not make abortion illegal in the United States, as this overwrought letter would indicate. Rather, the court removed the right from the Constitution and pushed the matter back to the states, whether those debates are alive and well.
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The uproar over Barrett’s book is not an isolated incident in the conservative sphere. Former Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have also faced the publishing cancel crowd. Simon & Schuster dumped its deal with Hawley, but it kept the one with Pence.
That book is coming out this month, reportedly with new details and perspective about what happened leading up to Jan. 6, 2021.
It’s hard to argue how that could not be of national importance, yet petitioners tried mightily to stop it.
Nico Perrino, executive vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, says efforts from within the publishing industry to censor works is of concern.
“It’s an industry that you think would be among the biggest defenders of a culture of free expression or free speech or freedom of the press,” he says.
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Books bans ‘deeply undemocratic’
While Perrino notes that private publishers have a right to publish what they wish, the effort to ban books from conservatives is worrisome.
“You have to raise the broader question about a culture of free expression in which a publishing industry, if these petitioners get their way, would only reflect the viewpoints of half of America,” he says. “And, therefore, America isn’t really aware of the breadth of diversity of opinion that exists here.”
PEN America, whose members include some of the nation’s top writers, recently came out with a report warning against the book removal trend at schools, acknowledging that most of the books targeted deal with LGBTQ+ characters and themes.
“This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, in that it often seeks to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those calling for the bans and notwithstanding polls that consistently show that Americans of all political persuasions oppose book bans,” the PEN report states.
Surely, that’s also true of books from a Supreme Court associate justice, a former vice president and a U.S. senator.
Story Credit: usatoday.com