Dennis Gosnell, Assignment Editor
To start off “Banned Books” week, RSC held a panel to discuss the concept of government control over the censorship of books.
KOCO Eyewitness News Anchor Wendell Edwards moderated the panel; which consisted of Rep. Jason Nelson, Former Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, and Executive Vice President of the Oklahoma Press Association Mark Thomas.
The panel discussed the need for caution in deciding to ban a book and the ways that Oklahoma has dealt with this issue. The central question remains, is it right or wrong for government to decide what is banned or what is not.
One issue discussed was the King and King book by Linda de Haan, which became the focus of removal attempts by politicians to ensure that young children had no access to it. Some community members found the book offensive because it teaches acceptance of people’s choice in life partners which differ from societal norms.
“When deciding what to do about this situation we came to a compromise, with the book and other books of sensitivity being added to a ‘parental’ section,” Roth said. This was done to allow the books to remain accessible to all.
An audience member questioned the policy of selecting and segregating books to the parental section based on their content. “We wanted to allow books to be accessible to everyone, but to appease some there needed to be a compromise,” Roth said.
The panel went on to discuss the difference between censorship and self-censorship. The two are considerably different. Censorship, by law-making entities, reflects the banning or limiting of accessibility of selected books for everyone.
Self-censorship is an individual taking the responsibility to maintain their ethics by limiting access specifically for themselves and their children without compromising the greater accessibility of others.
“’Offense is subjective and becomes the responsibility of those parents who should be aware of what a child reads,” Roth said. On this issue the panel agreed that forcing others to limit their access to knowledge is wrong and that individuals who take offense to a book should ignore it, so that others don’t lose accessibility.
When Edwards questioned the panel about whether the government had a right to control access of information. The panel agreed that such control would diminish human rights and would create a frightening environment.
Laws to restrict accessibility of books infringe on rights granted in the Bill of Rights. “Government does not represent an individual but the majority and minority equally,” Thomas said. To ensure that the community has input in their library collections, community library boards are formed to determine which books reflect the neighborhood values.
When the panel adjourned, they agreed that banning a book limits the forward progress of a democratic society and hinders intellectual development.
Attendees watch as Wendell Edwards, KOCO Eyewitness Anchor, moderates banning books debate with Rep. Jason Nelson, Jim Roth, former Corporation Commissioner, and Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association. Photo by Dennis Gosnell