June 9, 2014

Dr. Michael J. Roberts, Principal
Booker T. Washington High School
6000 College Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32504
Dear Dr Roberts:
We write to express concern about the decision to cancel the assignment of Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, for a school-
wide summer reading program at Booker T. Washington High School, a few days before the beginning of the summer break.
As we understand it, the book was selected after an extensive process by the professional staff. There was no formal challenge to
the book and thus no reconsideration by a review committee to address the merits of the book or respond to any objections to it.
Even though you apparently recognize that the book is well-written and that it addresses important and timely topics, we gather
that you decided to withdraw the assignment because of concerns that some parents might object to scenes involving sex and
violence and the idea of questioning authority, 
School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular or
controversial ideas. Removing a book because it contains ideas that some members of the community may object to, or
disapprove of, violates basic constitutional principles. According to the Supreme Court, the "bedrock principle underlying the
First Amendment… is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea
itself offensive or disagreeable." Texas v. Johnson (1989). The First Amendment “protects the citizen against the State itself and
all of its creatures — Boards of Education not excepted…. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for
scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach
youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes…. ….” West Virginia Board of Education v.
Barnette (1943).
Indeed, confronting controversial and complex themes in literature is part of the educational mission of the schools. A school
district puts its students at a distinct disadvantage if it fails to introduce them to the wide range of ideas that they will encounter
in college and in life. Excluding works out of fear that they might be controversial would deny students exposure to a wide range
of material, including works by Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Angelou, and Toni Morrison, to
name but a few. As these examples suggest, any attempt "to eliminate everything that is objectionable…will leave public schools
in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result…."McCollum v. Board of
Educ. (1948) (Jackson, J. concurring).
Canceling the assignment privileges the political, moral, and religious beliefs of some individuals, who might object to the
books content, over others, who would not. It is precisely this form of viewpoint discrimination by government that our
constitutional system is designed to prevent. Educators are rarely held to violate the First Amendment when they include 
material that has pedagogical value, even if it is offensive to some, whereas acceding to a demand – actual or anticipated – to
remove material for ideological reasons is vulnerable to legal challenge. See Monteiro v. Tempe Union High School District (9th
Cir. 1998) (recognizing the First Amendment right of students to read books selected for their “legitimate educational
value”), Parker v. Hurley (1st Cir. 2008) (rejecting effort to remove books that offend parents’ and students’ religious beliefs),
and Pratt v. Independent School Dist. No. 831 (8th Cir. 1982) (First Amendment violated when films removed because of hostility
to content and message).
It is no answer to say that the book has not been “censored” because it is still available from the library, bookstores, or, in this
case, online. A book does not have to be censored everywhere to be censored somewhere, nor does it have to be made
completely inaccessible to fall within the First Amendment's prohibition on government action "abridging freedom of speech."
Public school students are entitled to be exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints unconstrained by limits imposed by what some
think is controversial subject matter. These are precisely the ideas they will soon confront in real life.
We strongly urge you to reinstate Little Brother as the school-wide summer reading assignment. We appreciate the difficulties
you might encounter from some elements in the community, but you will be acting not only in accordance with fundamental
constitutional values but also in the best interests of students if you stand up for the principle that they should be able to read
and discuss literature of all kinds. You will also have wholehearted support from a community of educators, First Amendment
experts, and advocates for students.
Please feel free to call on us if you wish to discuss these issues, or if we can be of further assistance.
Chris Finan
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
Judy Platt
Director, Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers
Susanna Reich
Chair, Children's and Young Adult Book Committee
PEN American Center
Joan Bertin
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship
Charles Brownstein
Executive Director
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Millie Davis
Senior Developer,
Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English
Lin Oliver
Executive Director
Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

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