Christopher M. Finan: How to Battle Book Banning in Your Community
This Week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan is joined by Christopher M. Finan to discuss his new book, How Free Speech Saved Democracy: The Untold History of How the First Amendment Became an Essential Tool for Securing Liberty and Social Justice, out now from Steerforth Press.
From the episode:
Christopher M. Finan: In the past, many of our our free speech battles have happened in state legislatures where we had some chance of killing legislation, but that is gone. … Books in schools has been our bread and butter since we were founded and … we monitor what’s happening in school districts and what is happening right now on how they violate their policies. We try to indicate to them that we’re aware of what they’ve done and we want them to change it. Right now, those appeals are falling on deaf ears. But, you know, our hope always is in sending letters like this and that we’ll find people in the districts who agree with us who will step forward and challengevthe censorship at school board meetings and even by running for school board.
Mitchell Kaplan: I think that’s going to be key for the next four years or so, is that we’re going to have to find a bench of people who want to run for the school board and who can articulate.
Christopher M. Finan: We have to do that because the censors are also running for the school board.
Mitchell Kaplan: Well, absolutely. And we have a situation here of a of a conservative Republican who wasn’t conservative and Republican enough, and our governor put into a school board race over half a million dollars, which is unheard of. And she actually lost to a real book-banning conservative. And it goes beyond even book banning. It goes to curriculum. The whole idea of teaching history, black history, LGBTQ history. As a former teacher, I taught high school for three or four years, I would probably be arrested by now, probably if I was still teaching.
Christopher M. Finan: We’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s not something that’s going to go away, because it happens at the grassroots. It’s going to take longer to address than before. But we’ve been through book banning episodes a number of times in this country over the last century … and in every case, the the book banners had lost. And I think that as we organize and people stand up and challenge in electoral circumstances or simply in school board meetings, we will ultimately turn this tide. But it’s going to take people who are willing to fight.
Christopher M. Finan has been involved in the fight against censorship for 35 years. He is executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the former president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. After working as a newspaper reporter, he studied American history at Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1992. He is the author of Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior, Drunks: An American History, and From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, winner of the American Library Association’s Eli M. Oboler Award.