Book censorship

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Chilean soldiers burn books considered politically subversive in 1973, under Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Quema de libros.jpg
Chilean soldiers burn books considered politically subversive in 1973, under Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Book censorship is the act of some authority taking measures to suppress ideas and information within a book. Censorship is "the regulation of free speech and other forms of entrenched authority". [1] Censors typically identify as either a concerned parent, community members who react to a text without reading, or local or national organizations. [2] Marshall University Library defines a banned book as one that is "removed from a library, classroom etc." and a challenged book as one that is "requested to be removed from a library, classroom etc." [3] Books can be censored by burning, shelf removal, school censorship, and banning books. [3] Books are most often censored for age appropriateness, offensive language, sexual content, amongst other reasons. [4] Similarly, religions may issue lists of banned books, such as the historical example of the Roman Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum and bans of such books as Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses by Ayatollah Khomeini, [5] which do not always carry legal force. Censorship can be enacted at the national or subnational level as well, and can carry legal penalties. Books may also be challenged at a local community level, although successful bans do not extend outside that area.



"Almost every country places some restrictions on what may be published, although the emphasis and the degree of control differ from country to country and at different periods." [6] There are a variety of reasons why books may be censored. Materials are often suppressed due to the perceived notion of obscenity. This obscenity can apply to materials that are about sexuality, race, drugs, or social standing. [7] The censorship of literature on the charge of obscenity appears to have begun in the early 19th century.[ citation needed ] The rise of the middle class, who had evangelical backgrounds, brought about this concern with obscenity.[ citation needed ] Book censorship has been happening in society for as long as they have been printed, and even before with manuscripts and codices. The use of book censorship has been a common practice throughout our history.

Governments have also sought to ban certain books which they perceive to contain material that could threaten, embarrass, or criticize them. [8]

Throughout history, societies practiced various forms of censorship in the belief that the community, as represented by the government, was responsible for molding the individual. [9]

Other leaders outside the government have banned books, including religious authorities. [10] Church leaders who prohibit members of their faith from reading the banned books may want to shelter them from perceived obscene, immoral, or profane ideas or situations or from ideas that may challenge the teaching of that religion. [11]

Religious materials have been subject to censorship as well. For example, various scriptures have been banned (and sometimes burned at several points in history). The Bible has been censored and even banned, as have other religious scriptures. Similarly, books based on the scriptures have also been banned, such as Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You , which was banned in the Russian Empire for being anti-establishment. [12]

The banning of a book often has the effect of enticing people to seek the book. [13] The action of banning the book creates an interest in the book which has the opposite effect of making the work more popular. [13]


Nazi Germany burned works of Jewish authors, and other works considered "un-German". Joseph Schorer Bucherverbrennung 1933.jpg
Nazi Germany burned works of Jewish authors, and other works considered "un-German".

Book burning

Book burning is the practice of destroying, often ceremonially, books or other written material. It is usually carried out in public and is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material, with a desire to censor it. Book burning is one of the original types of censorship dating back to 213 BCE. [14] Book burning has historically been performed in times of conflict, for example Nazi book burnings, US Library of Congress, Arian books, Jewish Manuscripts in 1244, and the burning of Christian texts, just to name a few. [15] In the United States, book burning is another right that is protected by the first amendment as a freedom of expression. [16]

School censorship

In the United States, school organizations that find contents of a book to be offensive or unfit for a given age group will often have the book removed from the class curriculum. [16] This type of censorship usually arises from parental influence in schools. [16] Parents who do not feel comfortable with a child's required reading will make efforts to have the book removed from a class, and replaced by another title. [16]

Banning books

According to the Marshall University Library, a banned book in the United States is one that has been "removed from a library, classroom, etc.” [3] In many situations, parents or concerned parties will ban or propose a ban based on the book's contents. [17] The American Library Association publishes a list of the top "Banned and Challenged Books" for any given year. [18] The American Library Association also organizes a "Banned Books Week", which is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read." [18] The goal of the project is to bring awareness to banned books and promote the freedom to learn. [19]

Shelf removal

Shelf removal refers to being unable to buy or borrow a book from a bookstore or library, respectively.

School libraries

According to the American Library Association, "the school library is a unique and essential part of the learning community, and when led by a qualified school librarian, prepares all learners for college, career, and life." [20] In certain scenarios, concerned third parties often voice their concerns over certain titles in libraries that they deem to be unfit for students. In 1982, the Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 versus Pico was taken to the United States Supreme Court. [21] In the case, students and parents challenged the board's removal of certain titles from the school library. [21] The books included texts which the board considered to be "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy." [22] The Supreme Court Justices stated removal of books from libraries was only permissible if the books were considered educationally unsuitable. [2] [23]

Public libraries

Public libraries are considered to be open to the public within a town or community. Similar to school libraries, removal of books from public library shelves is often the subject of heavy debate. "Public schools and public libraries...have been the setting for legal battles about student access to books, removal or retention of 'offensive' material, regulation of patron behavior, and limitations on public access to the internet." [24]


Privishing is the practice by which a book publisher at the behest of governments or special interests acquires the rights to a manuscript and then sabotages the distribution and marketing of the book, usually breaching publishing contracts. Methods include cutting print runs so as to make books unprofitable, scaling back promotional efforts, delaying release so as to miss holiday seasons, cutting advertising budgets, and pressuring reviewers to be hostile. An example is Gerard Colby's 1984 Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain - where the Du Pont family convened a "war counsel" to suppress the book and put pressure on publisher Prentice Hall to ensure its limited distribution and print run. With a limited print run of 10,000, the family then dispatched its own agents to buy up as many copies as possible. [25] [26] [27]


Book censorship can arise for any number of reasons. Concerned parties may find certain texts to be unfit for a learning environment. Some of the most common reasons for censorship include:

International book censorship

Nazi-Era Germany

During the Second World War, the German Nazi party hosted frequent book burnings following seizures of property belonging non-Nazi Germans. The burnings were organized along with the efforts of an all-powerful Aryan Race that were being instated in the government by Joseph Goebbels; the Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. [42] These events were seen as a symbolic cleanse for the German people, ridding their country and Aryan identity of anything that was 'un-German' in its ideals. [43] The materials included in the burning were not limited to works made within the Weimar Republic of the time, and the blacklist being followed reached to American authors as well as socialist and communist works. Ultimately, the blacklist for book burnings was focused on any content that would threaten the totality of Nazi power in Germany. More than anything else, these book burnings were aiming to remove Jewish cultural influences in Germany, at the order of the rising Nazi regime. [42]

Ireland's Censorship of Publications Act of 1929

Ireland's relationship with censorship was connected to the passing of the Censorship of Publications Act in 1929 as a result of an all-encompassing effort on the part of the Catholic Actions groups. [44] The 1929 act would not be repealed until 1967. For the 38 years before the act was repealed, the status of Irish works was left completely at the whim of members of the Catholic Church. In accordance to the act, the censorship board put into place would be composed of a member of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (CTSI) or a Knight of St. Columbanus as well as three additional Catholics and a final Protestant. [44] This congregation were tasked with deciding whether or not a work had any tendency towards the "indecent or obscene". [44] For a work to be prohibited there was a required four-to-one majority following an intense analysis of the work for any potentially problematic content. [44] Works that were deemed too provocative would be banned by the deciding board.

Apartheid Regime of South Africa

The nearly 50-year period of Apartheid in South Africa, under influence of the severe policies of racial segregation, silenced the voices of many who were critical of the government. The censorship of such writings was legalized under the institution of the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act. This act was the government's tool to refute any anti-government propaganda being released against the Apartheid, allowing the works of any person who had left the country or who was considered to have acted against the state to be prohibited entirely. [45] Banned people were marked with a Communist label, making it clear that no works being produced on their behalf were to be consumed by a South African Citizen.

It was not until the early 1990s, the South African Government began a process of evaluating the banned materials looking to decide if certain works should still be considered prohibited in the country. This evaluation led to much of the considerations for prohibited materials to become limited to explicit topics instead of politically driven messaging. [46] Though some materials remained undesirable following this reevaluation, there were major publications that were then allowed to be distributed in South Africa. Especially notable was the country's growing openness to various works of political thinkers such as Nelson Mandela, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. [46] Credit for this new perspective can be offered towards an increasingly liberal political climate coming into place during the early 1990s.

Ukraine ban on Russian Books

On December 30, 2016, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine signed into law a decree that restricts import of books into Ukraine from Russia. According to the law, a person can bring at most 10 Russian books without a permit. Unauthorized distribution of books from Russia is under a penalty. The State Committee for Television and Radio-broadcasting, whose duties include enforcing the information policy in Ukraine, is set in charge of book permits and is to issue bans on books deemed inappropriate which come "from territory of the aggressor state and from the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine". Types of printed matter which require permits include books, brochures, children's books including coloring books, as well as maps, atlases, globes, etc. Each permit is to be entered into the special state register and is valid for at most five years. Bans are based on evaluations by a council of experts and may be contested.

Challenged books

This graph shows the number of book challenges from 2000 to 2005 and the most popular reasons for the challenges Banned books graph.JPG
This graph shows the number of book challenges from 2000 to 2005 and the most popular reasons for the challenges

By country

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Book burning</span> Practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material

Book burning is the deliberate destruction by fire of books or other written materials, usually carried out in a public context. The burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question. Book burning can be an act of contempt for the book's contents or author, intended to draw wider public attention to this opinion, or conceal the information contained in the text from being made public, such as diaries or ledgers.

<i>Index Librorum Prohibitorum</i> Books prohibited by the Catholic Church (16th–20th centuries)

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of publications deemed heretical or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index ; Catholics were forbidden to read them.

In Canada, appeals by the judiciary to community standards and the public interest are the ultimate determinants of which forms of expression may legally be published, broadcast, or otherwise publicly disseminated. Other public organisations with the authority to censor include some tribunals and courts under provincial human rights laws, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, along with self-policing associations of private corporations such as the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Film censorship</span> Films that are banned in a particular country

Film censorship is carried out by various countries to differing degrees, sometimes as a result of powerful or relentless lobbying by organizations or individuals. Films that are banned in a particular country change over time.

Censorship in Germany has taken many forms throughout the history of the country. Various regimes have restricted the press, cinema, literature, and other entertainment venues. In contemporary Germany, the Grundgesetz generally guarantees freedom of press, speech, and opinion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lauren Myracle</span> American young adult novelist

Lauren Myracle is an American writer of young adult fiction. She has written many novels, including the three best-selling "IM" books, ttyl, ttfn and l8r, g8r. Her book Thirteen Plus One was released May 4, 2010.

The Federal Republic of Germany guarantees freedom of speech, expression, and opinion to its citizens as per Article 5 of the constitution. Despite this, censorship of various materials has taken place since the Allied occupation after World War II and continues to take place in Germany in various forms due to a limiting provision in Article 5, Paragraph 2 of the constitution. In 2014 the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index ranked Germany as 14th in the world in terms of press freedom. During the Allied occupation of Germany, the media was controlled by the occupying forces. The policy rationales differed among the occupying powers, but there was resentment in literary and journalistic circles in many parts of the country. Undesired publishing efforts were unilaterally blocked by the occupying forces.

<i>ttfn</i> (novel) 2005 book by Lauren Myracle

ttfn is a young adult novel by Lauren Myracle. Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in 2005, it is the sequel to ttyl, and is also written entirely in the style of instant messaging conversation. It is followed by l8r, g8r.

Censorship in Israel is officially carried out by the Israeli Military Censor, a unit in the Israeli government officially tasked with carrying out preventive censorship regarding the publication of information that might affect the security of Israel. The body is headed by the Israeli Chief Censor, a military official appointed by Israel's Minister of Defense, who bestows upon the Chief Censor the authority to suppress information he deems compromising from being made public in the media, such as Israel's nuclear weapons program and Israel's military operations outside its borders. On average, 2240 press articles in Israel are censored by the Israeli Military Censor each year, approximately 240 of which in full, and around 2000 partially.

Censorship in Japan has taken many forms throughout the history of the country. While Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits formal censorship, effective censorship of obscene content does exist and is justified by the Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan. Historically, the law has been interpreted in different ways—recently it has been interpreted to mean that all pornography must be at least partly censored, and a few arrests has been made based on this law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Censorship</span> Suppression of speech or other information

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information. This may be done on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient". Censorship can be conducted by governments, private institutions and other controlling bodies.

Censorship in New Zealand has been present since around 1850 and is currently managed by the Classification Office under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lists of banned books</span>

This is an index of lists of banned books, which contain books that have been banned or censored by religious authority or government.

An obscenity is any utterance or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time. It is derived from the Latin obscēnus, obscaenus, "boding ill; disgusting; indecent", of uncertain etymology. Such loaded language can be used to indicate strong moral repugnance and outrage, in expressions such as "obscene profits" and "the obscenity of war". As a legal term, it usually refers to graphic depictions of people engaged in sexual and excretory activity, and related utterances of profane speech.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Religious censorship</span> Form of censorship involving religious authority

Religious censorship is a form of censorship where freedom of expression is controlled or limited using religious authority or on the basis of the teachings of the religion. This form of censorship has a long history and is practiced in many societies and by many religions. Examples include the Edict of Compiègne, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum and the condemnation of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Book censorship is the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational material – of images, ideas, and information – on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable according to the standards applied by the censor. Censorship is "the regulation of speech and other forms of expression by an entrenched authority". The overall intent of censorship, in any form, is to act as "a kind of safeguard for society, typically to protect norms and values [...] censorship suppresses what is considered objectionable from a political, moral, or religious standpoint."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Book censorship in China</span>

Book censorship in the People's Republic of China (PRC) is implemented or mandated by the PRC's unique ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is currently widespread in China. Enforcement is strict and sometimes inconsistent. Punishment for violations can be arbitrary many times leading to long sentences for crimes against censorship laws.

<i>Two Boys Kissing</i> 2013 young adult novel written by American author David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing is a 2013 young adult novel written by American author David Levithan. Inspired by true events, the book follows two 17-year-old boys who set out to break a Guinness World Record by kissing for 32 hours. The book includes a "Greek chorus" of the generation of gay men who died of AIDS. Throughout the narrative, the book discusses topics such as relationships, coming out, gender identity, and hook-up culture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2021–2022 book banning in the United States</span> Wave of challenges against multiple books

Between 2021 and 2022, there were a considerable number of books banned or challenged in the United States. Most of the targeted books have to do with race, gender, and sexuality. Unlike most book challenges in the past, whereby parents or other stakeholders in the community would engage teachers and school administrators in a debate over a title, local groups have received support from conservative advocacy organizations working to nationalize the efforts focused on certain subjects. They have also been more likely to involve legal and legislative measures rather than just conversations in local communities. Journalists, academics, librarians, and others commonly link the coordinated, often well-funded book challenges to other reactionary efforts to restrict what students should learn about systemic bias and the history of the United States. Hundreds of books have been challenged, including high-profile examples like Maus by Art Spiegelman and New Kid by Jerry Craft.


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Further reading