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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 1, no. 7, December 2015

Louisiana Booksellers, ABA File First Amendment Challenge to New Law

On November 4, the American Booksellers Association joined two New Orleans bookstores, Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, in filing a federal lawsuit challenging a new Louisiana law that requires websites to age-verify every Internet user before providing access to non-obscene material that could be deemed harmful to any minor. The other plaintiffs are the Louisiana magazine publisher Future Crawfish Paper, LLC and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

To comply with the law, booksellers and magazine publishers must either place an age confirmation button in front of their entire websites, thereby restricting access to materials that may be appropriate for all ages, or attempt to review all of the books or magazines available through their websites and place an age confirmation button in front of each individual page that might be inappropriate for any minor. A failure to age-verify, even if no minors try to access the material, is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law while the case is pending.

Campus Protests Create Free Speech Controversy

The free speech controversy that has erupted as a result of recent protests on college campuses may seem remote from the First Amendment rights that protect booksellers and their customers. But in recent years people have used free speech to urge booksellers to cancel appearances by controversial authors. Protesters regularly demonstrate outside the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver because it refuses to take a position on a city regulation that affects the homeless. All of these cases involve a clash between people asserting their First Amendment rights. In the campus controversies, should we side with a minority that is trying to make itself heard or condemn those who violate the very rights that make protest possible? ABFE Director Chris Finan discusses the crisis on campus in his latest “Free Speech” column.

Colorado Voters Fire School Board Censors

Last October, ABFE joined other free speech groups in protesting a proposed review of the Advanced Placement history curriculum in the public schools of Jefferson County, Colorado. Three conservative reformers who had been elected to the school board in 2014 wanted to determine whether the instructional materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights,” and whether they “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.”

In a letter to the school board, ABFE (operating then as the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression) joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and others in observing that it would be nearly impossible to teach U.S. history without reference to “civil disorder,” whether the subject is the American revolution, the labor movement, civil rights and gay rights activism, U.S. entry into World War I, voting rights protests, public demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, opposition to abortion, government surveillance, and countless other significant events in U.S. history.

The proposal sparked widespread criticism, including street protests by students. The review was canceled in February, but the controversy concluded last month when the three board members were removed from office in a recall election. The recalls passed by a 2-1 margin.

Kids’ Right to Read Project Update: Latest Book Challenges

The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which is co-sponsored by ABFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship, sent close to a letter a week protesting various book bans during late October and November:

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was removed from a high school honors course in Matton, Illinois, following complaints by parents about what they described as “vulgar” passages and “pornographic content.”

In Athens, Tennessee, a parent who wanted her ninth-grader to read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff without the “swear” words was permitted to expurgate copies of the book. (The principal later ordered the censored copies removed and authorized the purchase of new books.)

In Rosemount, Minnesota, a review committee is considering a request to remove Gayle Foreman’s YA novel Just One Day from four middle-school libraries because of “adult” themes and “inappropriate” language.

A parent in Cary, North Carolina, is calling for the removal of John Perritano’s Amityville: Jr. Graphic Ghost Stories from elementary school libraries. The graphic novel is intended for second and third graders.

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 abfe@bookweb.org. In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
 
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