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Heidi E.

Hansen Wayne State University Kimberly Schroeder/LIS 6010 Summer 2006 Secular Humanism and the Religion of Book Banning During the 1980s, the floodgate of textbook banning in the United States was pushed wide open. A few major book banning incidents defined the problems that many book banners had with the state of their children’s public school education, most of which centered on the supposed idea of secular humanism being taught in public schools. Conservative Christians were charging the schools of teaching values such as, “just as you make mistakes, so do parents”, “the foundation of integrity has to come from within a person”, and felt that “the hand of God [was] resolutely removed from these and many other value judgments which surfaced on the pages of the books their children had to read” (Noble, 1990, p. 133). Noble calls this period in book banning history, “The Textbook Holy Wars”, and while not just textbooks were targeted, there was a huge push to rid public schools of what objectors considered indecent literature. The events of previous generations, including the Vietnam War, had exposed young people to a great deal of diversity, protest, and opinion. Now children were asking questions of their parents that they hadn’t before, including intellectual inquiries into why things were a certain way. The parents however saw these inquiries as a question of authority instead of engaging their children in the intellectual freedom they desired, they stifled it and blamed the school system for teaching their children what they deemed socially unacceptable (1990, p. 178). In 1983 an edition of the Basic Reading series published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston was challenged in Hawkins County, Tennessee. The initial complaint against the series was brought on by Vicki Frost, “who identified herself as ‘born again’ and a ‘fundamentalist Christian’.” She felt very strongly that the series defied her social beliefs and ordered that the books be removed from her children’s classrooms (Foerstel, 1994, p. 25-26). The objection to the series made its way to court, oppositions to the stories included in the readers continued to surface, “more than 400 objections” were presented in court. The plaintiffs attacked everything in the Holt readers that could conceivably relate to world unity, nontraditional gender roles, family democracy, moral relativity, the brotherhood of man, nonreligious views of death, imagination, reason, neutral descriptions of religion, socialism, social protest, magic, environmentalism, kindness toward animals, vegetarianism, fear of nuclear war, disarmament, or gun control (Foerstel, 1994, p. 31). As Foerstel continues to note, specific stories in the readers were considered objectionable, including The Wizard of Oz, which “promoted self-reliance and personal responsibility”. Goldilocks, was criticized because she was not reprimanded for breaking and entering, and The Three Little Pigs promoted witchcraft by dancing around a kettle. While the case was eventually defeated and the Supreme Court denied any more attempts for appeal, it is noted that the later 1986 version of the readers omitted much of the plaintiff’s targeted passages (p. 28, 33). The objections to materials during this period are so broad and our population is so diverse that it is obvious it would be difficult to select texts based on what another person considers socially

acceptable without offending another group of people. However, it is the free exchange of ideas that the most vocal opponents to book banning declare is the greatest asset to a free society and will fight to protect. Sources Foerstel, H. N. (1994). Banned in the U.S.A a reference guide to book censorship in schools and public libraries. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. Noble, W. (1990). Bookbanning in America who bans books?--and why. Middlebury, Vt: P.S. Eriksson.