SPLC joins free speech groups opposing Arizona school book confiscation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, executive director 703.807.1904 / director@splc.org

In a joint letter released Monday, the Student Press Law Center and dozens of the nation’s leading free-expression organizations expressed alarm over the forced removal of ethnic-history books from the Tucson, Ariz., schools.

“Students deserve an education that provides exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial,” said the statement, signed by the SPLC and 27 other organizations, including groups representing educators, authors and publishers.

The statement follows a mid-January roundup of banned books ordered by the Tucson Unified School District in response to a state edict. Such widely read and well-regarded titles as Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and Rethinking Columbus, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson, were removed from classrooms and boxed up.

A 2011 Arizona law, HB 2281, prohibits public schools from offering classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

John Huppenthal, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction, declared in June that Tucson’s course of study in Mexican-American history violated HB 2281 and threatened to impose financial penalties. In December, a state administrative law judge agreed with Huppenthal. The statute is being challenged as unconstitutional in federal court, but on Jan. 10, a U.S. district judge refused to enter an order blocking enforcement of HB 2281.

Earlier this month, in response to Huppenthal’s threat, the Tucson Unified School District board voted to scrap Mexican-American studies, and school officials seized dozens of titles that were declared to be taboo under HB 2281.

“The Supreme Court has told us repeatedly, as recently as last term, that young people have a constitutional right to receive information that cannot lightly be overridden by the government,” said attorney Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “Banning books is a radical step, and ‘protecting’ students from controversial ideas is never a legally or educationally sound justification for such drastic action.”

The executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Joan Bertin, called the removal of the books “censorship at its most brazen.” Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, said, “Regardless of the outcome of legal proceedings, this is harming students, whose education should be the primary concern of elected officials. Instead they are putting politics and ideology ahead of the well-being of young people.”

The entire letter is viewable here.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free information and educational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a wide variety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.



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