Thursday, August 19, 2010

Freedom of Speech

Despite our country’s current travails, I think most of us would agree that the United States continues to be the best place in the world to live. Surely one of the reasons for this can be found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of repercussion.

Recently this has become an issue in Humble, Texas where I, and a number of other writers, have been invited to appear at the Teen Literary Festival in January. One of the writers, Ellen Hopkins, was invited, and then “disinvited” by a school superintendent after a librarian and some parents expressed concern about her books.

Ellen is a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award nominee, and winner of numerous other awards. Her book Crank is about the dangers of methamphetamine. Earlier this year I read Methland by Nick Reding and was reminded that meth is a life- and family-destroying drug that has ravaged entire towns in the Midwest. Both books present important anti-drug messages, especially for teens since they are probably among the most likely to try the drug.

It’s not hard to guess why some parents in Humble might be uncomfortable with Ellen’s books, but they always have the option of not allowing their children to attend the festival. It is more difficult to understand why a librarian, of all people, would side with them. And it is rather remarkable that a school superintendent – someone who actually oversees the teaching of the United States Constitution in schools – would go so far as to “disinvite” an author.

A number of the invited authors, including Pete Hautman, who wrote the wonderful book godless, which did indeed win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, have decided to protest the Humble TFL’s action by boycotting the festival. But after considerable thought on the subject, I believe we should all attend.

Inviting, and then disinviting Ellen was wrong. Denying freedom of expression is wrong. Practicing any form of censorship is wrong. But it seems to me that boycotting the event is misguided. Why? Because it’s exactly what those in Humble who practice censorship want.

If they don’t want Ellen there, then it stands to reason that they don’t want anyone who supports Ellen, either. Isn’t any author who boycotts the festival essentially practicing self-censorship? Isn’t he or she basically saying, “You people seek to deny freedom of expression. Therefore I will not come to Humble and express myself.”

The people in Humble who don’t want Ellen there are probably thinking, “Thank God.”

Therefore I would ask the boycotting writers to reconsider and join me. Those in Humble who are fighting for free speech need our support. I would urge all the invited writers to come to the TLF, where we can express ourselves loudly and clearly – on the topic of censorship.

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