In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury paints a world where books are burned, readers are punished, and the world believes they are better off without them. The book centers on the notion of censorship and the world believing that books are dangerous. Ashley Gohr, a librarian at Arizona State University, was quoted in an article called “Opening Banned Books” as saying that, “Books are thought of as dangerous, and they are! They contain ideas and stories that can change minds and lives.” Although America has not reached the state of being what Ray Bradbury described, censorship is alive and thriving across America’s college campuses.
On September 17, 2013, three Modesto Junior College (MJC) students were distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution in front of the student center. After roughly ten minutes, they were confronted by campus security who informed them they had to have the proper permits to pass out materials. One of the students, Robert Van Tuinen, protested, claiming this was a violation of his First Amendment rights. At the Student Development Center Christian Serrano told them that the school had a “time, place and manner policy.” This policy requires students to register five days in advance for events and the events must be held in the designated free speech area. After a legal battle with the help of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Robert Van Tuinen was paid $50,000 for legal fees and as compensation for the violation of his First Amendment rights. MJC also updated their policies.
It is a dangerous time when passing out copies of one of our country’s founding documents causes security concerns on a college campus.
In 2008, Keith Sampson a student/employee at Indiana Purdue University of Indianapolis was found guilty of racial harassment for reading the book Notre Dame vs the Klan. Thanks to FIRE and extensive media coverage, the case was overturned and his school record cleaned of any blemish caused by the incident.
Gina Luttrell, an author at FIRE writes, “The freedom to read controversial material is just as important. You cannot learn if you cannot read, and you cannot freely exchange ideas if you cannot read things that are unpopular or controversial. The mere concept of prohibiting books should be seen as antithetical to the mission of modern America’s colleges and universities.”
How long will this censorship continue? The answer is up to students. Will they allow their speakers, their art, the books they read, and the people they support to be censored? At what point does education become indoctrination?
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Cornell Law interprets the First Amendment as such: “The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”
If American citizens want free speech to remain free, they must be willing to listen to views they do not agree with. They need to allow books to be published and distributed that they disagree with and they must be willing to fight for the right to live and speak freely.