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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2015


This is the inaugural issue of the Free Speech Report.  It is published monthly by the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE), the successor of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which merged with the American Booksellers Association.

The Free Speech Report seeks to inform booksellers, our friends in the publishing industry, and members of the public about the ongoing fight to defend the freedom to read.  We welcome your comments at

ABFE Art Auction to Benefit Free Speech in Children's Books

Arizona Booksellers Holding Their Breath

The Arizona legislature came tantalizingly close to making important changes in a recently enacted law that bans the distribution of nude images without the permission of the person in the picture.  Since there is no exemption for books containing historical images, such as the picture of the naked girl running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War, five Arizona booksellers have joined ABFE and others in challenging the law as a violation of the First Amendment.  A judge stayed enforcement of the law to give the legislature an opportunity to improve it.  The reform bill passed the Arizona House of Representatives but died when the Senate failed to consider it on the last day before adjournment.  There is a possibility the bill may be taken up again if the legislature is called into special session.  If not, the case will move forward in the courts.

John Oliver Joins Critics of Patriot Act

The June 1 deadline for reauthorizing the Patriot Act got a lot of attention on the evening of April 5 when comedian John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, extended his show to accommodate a 33-minute discussion of the law that included an interview with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.  The interview was taped in Russia where Snowden has found sanctuary from the efforts of the United States government to prosecute him for leaking documents.  Read more

ABFE has joined the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and 31 civil liberties and human rights groups in launching Fight 215, a new website, that will mobilize grassroots support for amending Section 215.  The site features tools that make it easy for members of the public to contact their representatives in Congress, including one that facilitates telephone calls and a Twitter tool that makes it possible for people outside the country to send tweets to Congressional leaders.  ABFE has also signed a letter to President Obama and Congress urging that any legislation reauthorizing Section 215 include “a clear, strong, and effective” end to the bulk collection of data on Americans.  Read more. 

Free Speech Emergency? Call ABFE First

Judy Blume’s Latest Gift to Free Speech

Judy Blume has given us many gifts.  Since the publication of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in 1970, Judy has written many bestselling books, including kids’ books about important but controversial subjects.  She has also been a leader in the fight against book censorship.  Her latest gift to free speech is to allow herself to be honored at the 21st annual Children’s Book Art Silent Auction at BookExpo America, on Tuesday, May 26.  The Children’s Art Auction, which is sponsored by ABFE and the ABC Children’s Group at ABA, supports ongoing efforts to defend the free speech rights of kids, including the Kids’ Right to Read Project (founded by ABFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship) and Banned Books Week, the only national celebration of the freedom to read.  Read more.  

A Great Book About Torture

In my new monthly column in Bookselling This Week, I urge booksellers to support Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Little, Brown). Slahi is the first inmate of Guantanamo to tell the full story of his imprisonment and torture by the American government.  The story is engrossing and well written. It gives us the chance to listen to someone who was on the receiving end of a program that was supposed to protect us and a chance to consider again whether torture is ever justified.  Read more.         

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Silencing Prisoners Is a Bad Idea

ABFE has signed a brief supporting the effort to overturn a new Pennsylvania law that gives victims of violent crime the power to silence the speech of the criminals who hurt them.  The ACLU of Pennsylvania is challenging the Revictimization Relief Act, which authorizes civil suits to ban criminals from saying anything that causes “mental anguish” to victims or their families.  Crime victims deserve great sympathy, but the law makes it possible to suppress almost anything that people convicted of crimes want to say, even after they have served their sentences.  The law would make it difficult for journalists to investigate claims of wrongful imprisonment and prison abuses and might have prevented the writing of important books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, In Cold Blood, and Executioner’s Song, as well as the podcast Serial.  There was a hearing in the case on March 30.  Read more.

The Power of One: Connecticut School District Pulls Perks

A complaint by one parent in Wallingford, Connecticut, has prompted the district's superintendent of schools to remove Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower from the required reading list for high school freshmen.  The parent, Jean-Pierre Bolat, complained that the book glorifies sex, masturbation, date rape, and drugs, according to the local newspaper.  “I don’t believe in censorship, but believe in appropriateness,” Bolat said.  The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which was co-founded by ABFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship, protested in a letter sent to Superintendent Salvatore Menzo on March 20.  Read more.

Youth Symphony Plays Flat

ABFE joined a protest over the cancellation of a performance of a piece that includes music from a Nazi anthem.  The New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) had commissioned the work by Jonas Tarm, a 21-year-old junior at the New England Conservatory of Music, which was scheduled for a performance at Carnegie Hall on March 8.  The nine-minute work, “Marsh u Nebuttya” (“March to Oblivion”), took as its subject “conflict … totalitarianism … and polarizing nationalism,” Tarm told the New York Times.  It includes 45-second excerpts from the Nazi song “Horst Wessel” and a Soviet anthem.  A person self–identified as a “Nazi survivor” heard the work when it premiered last month and complained to officials of the youth symphony.  They canceled the performance, noting that it is illegal to play “Horst Wessel” in Germany.  ABFE and other free expression groups sent a letter of protest, organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship, to the NYYS.  Read more.

Thank you for reading, 
Chris Finan
ABFE Director

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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