This week is Banned Books Week. As the American Library Association's lists of frequently challenged titles will tell you, the desire for censorship is alive and well in the United States.
So today, because I can, I want to talk a bit about my favorite constitutional amendment, the first. Here's what it says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Basically, what the first amendment gives us is the right to think, and the right to discuss those thoughts. Censorship takes away that right. At its worst, censorship would take away your right to protest the loss of that right.
Not all speech is full of sunshine and light, happy children, cupcakes, and puppies. Some speech is ugly, cruel, even evil, and some can make us feel all of those things when we see and hear it. But all speech - let me repeat that - all speech deserves legal protection. Because if we want a young man in a courthouse to be able to wear a jacket with "Fuck the Draft" printed on the back, we also have to let the Neo-Nazis march through a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors. The first amendment gives us the right to think.
Book banning is a kind of censorship that I have never, ever understood. Not because I think that books are "just stories" and so not worth the attention. But because I cannot wrap my brain around the level of cowardice and fear it takes to say that ignorance is preferable to knowledge. Nor can I understand the thought that people need to be protected from ideas.
At its heart, censorship is fear, but fear that recognizes the truth: Words are powerful enough to start revolutions, to change the world.
Exercise your constitutional right to think. Read a banned book.