For the first time, participants in Banned Books Week this year can take part in a worldwide demonstration of the virtues of their favorite censored literature. Launched in 1982 by librarians, bookstore staff and teachers, Banned Books Week — Sept. 24-Oct. 1 — is directing advocates to a dedicated YouTube channel that will post your videos of you reading a excerpt from a favorite banned book.

Such Banned Books “read-outs” have been a popular expression that have served to promote the freedom to read, and the theme this fall is “Free your mind.”

The First Amendment freedoms that Americans often take for granted — the right to read, explore ideas, and express ourselves — are at risk. Remember, the First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to express views, including opinions about particular books. The First Amendment also guarantees that no one has the right to control or limit another person’s ability to read or access information. But when individuals or groups file formal written requests demanding that libraries or schools remove specific books from the shelves, or threaten retailers if they don’t drop certain titles, they are doing just that — attempting to restrict the rights of other people to access those books. Adults in the United States have the right to choose their own reading materials, along with the responsibility to acknowledge and respect the right of others to do the same.

Now, parents have the right — the responsibility — to guide their own children’s reading, of course. But that right does not extend to other people’s children. The rights and protections of the First Amendment extend to children and teens as well as adults.

A list of banned books includes not just trendy teen titles about vampires or coming-of-age tales. Titles that have been forced off the shelves include classics and respected authors: The Lord of the Rings and The Great Gatsby; Brave New World and 1984; John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway; Catch-22 and The Catcher in the Rye; Invisible Man and The Color Purple; Mark Twain and Jack London.

Objecting is not always illogical or insane, of course. Some books are vulgar, offensive or disturbing. But what’s troubling can be provocative; what’s provocative can lead to good results.

After all, in some places, the Qur’an and Holy Bible have been banned. Even within faiths, authoritarians include and exclude Scriptures. Institutional Christianity centuries ago banned the Books of Mary and Thomas; today, Catholic Bibles include Old Testament Books of Judith, Maccabees, Sirach, Tobit and Wisdom that Protestant Bibles omitted.

So, to protect our right to be informed and inspired, we must challenge attempts to censor by watching for, attending and participating in relevant public meetings, by writing letters to public officials and local media, by supporting local libraries, schools and booksellers, and by working with others to protect the freedoms we share and enjoy.

Also, the best tool against censorship, like most disease, is prevention. That requires us to keep informed. Groups providing news on censorship and banned books range from the First Amendment Center to the McCormick Foundation’s Freedom Project. Other organizations include the American Booksellers Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation and the National Council of Teachers of English, plus the National Coalition Against Censorship, the PEN American Center and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

When you speak up to protect the right to read, you not only defend your individual right to free expression, you demonstrate tolerance and respect for opposing points of view. And when you take action to preserve your precious freedoms, you become participants in the ongoing development of our republic, our democratic society.

Again, the theme this year is “Free your mind.”

Please do: Read on!

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