A banned book is a a book that students and other readers are restricted from accessing because of its controversial (even, sometimes, offensive) content. In the US, a banned or challenged book is removed from the library shelves, from classroom collections, and/or removed from required or recommended school reading lists.
Typical Reasons a Book is Banned
Through the centuries, books have been banned for a variety of reasons, and the authors of controversial texts have been subjected to torture, imprisonment, or even death. Writing (or even possessing) a banned book was the basis for severe retribution and penalties. (Please note: In some countries, the penalty for writing and/or owning banned books is still severe, even a death sentence.)
While each story is different, the overall reasons for book banning fall into basic reasons.
- Political: The contents of the book offer ideas that challenge, or run counter to, directives from leadership (those in power), but these books may also be controversial because of political affiliation or philosophies. Content related to fascism, communism, and anarchism is sometimes challenged or banned.
- Religious: The book may discuss religious topics in a negative way, may challenge religious leadership and/or may be representative of controversial moral lifestyles, language, beliefs or activities. Witchcraft, magic, satanic references, or other related topics (or depictions) are also sometimes cited.
- Sexual: Beyond just being controversial on religious grounds, these books are banned based on the explicit nature of the relationships that are discussed. In court hearings, the content is sometimes described as pornographic.
- Social: While this is a somewhat broad and far-reaching reason, the overall concern is that the book may encourage inappropriate social behavior. It may use slang to reference social groups, or it may blatantly depict actions or beliefs that are racist, sexist, or just plain offensive to one (or more) group of individuals.
While most incidents of books being banned are rather innocuous (particularly in the United States), it’s still important for us all to recognize that it happens every day, even if we don’t always hear about it.
A book may be challenged or banned on political, religious, sexual, or social grounds. We take the acts of banning or challenging a book as a serious matter, because these are forms of censorship–striking at the very core of our freedom to read.