Banning Books in Schools

School boards regularly attempt to ban books, with classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Of Mice and Men among the most frequently challenged, according to ALA. In the early years of the twenty-first century, the Harry Potter series of books, which tell the story of a young aspiring wizard and his adventures in wizard school, have become a focal point for many who oppose the focus on wizardry and magic.

School boards do not have an absolute right to remove books from school library shelves. In the case of Board of Education v. Pico., decided in 1982 by a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court case ruled against the school board of Island Trees, New York, which had removed several books from the school library shelves. Included among these books were The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Best Short Stories of Negro Writers (edited by Langston Hughes), A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich by Alice Childress, and A Reader for Writers (edited by Jerome Archer).

The court noted that school boards do have discretion in what books to acquire for the school, and it could reject any works deemed to be “pervasively vulgar.” But Justice William Brennan wrote that “the special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of First Amendment rights of students.”

Inside Banning Books in Schools