Books usually are banned, censored or challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from ideas and information which may be considered harmful or difficult to process. Sex, religion, race-relations and politics are often the motives behind book banning and censoring.
Censorship can be subtle or it can be blatant and overt; but it is always, nonetheless, harmful. One person's "immoral subject matter" may be needful information to another person. Material that promotes one religion may by necessity disparage another (for example, Satanist literature vs. Christian literature) and who is really to say which one is the right one? As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
Should a book be banned merely because it might be able to lead someone's thoughts astray? Unfortunately, many governments, religions and even schools, libraries and towns think 'yes, they should be banned.' Works by prize-winning authors have been banned; sometimes these banned books are released at a later time, once morals have changed. Works like Fanny Hill fall into this category: it was felt to be an immoral work and was forbidden from being published for over 200 years, till finally in the 1960s it was determined that a sexually explicit book did not render it to be a work without merit, and finally it was allowed to be printed openly in English speaking countries. The Marriage of Figaro was full of outspoken political messages, most of which are still somewhat pertinent today; it was blamed as a cause of the French Revolution and was banned in many countries around the world. Even modern works like Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code and American Psycho have been banned in some areas.
Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if people did not read the banned or challenged books in order to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of books and their information in a free society.
About the Author
The World of Banned Books offers many banned, censored, challenged and repressed books from a variety of eras. Buy a banned book today -- fight the censorship of information!