Prior to becoming a librarian, I took my First Amendment rights for granted. It wasn’t until I was involved in a book challenge at a local elementary school library that I realized that the freedom to read was important for everyone to be able to read what they wanted without censorship.
It is hard to imagine that the rights to free speech and free press remain far from universal. Few countries even come close to the protections provided by the U.S. Constitution. Even in the United States, our freedoms are regularly challenged.
Fortunately, there are some organizations that defend our free speech rights. They include the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, and Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF). The Freedom to Read Foundation was established in 1969 by the American Library Association (ALA) “to promote and defend the right to read; to foster libraries as institutions wherein every individual’s First Amendment freedoms are fulfilled: and to support the right of libraries to include in their collections and make available any work which they may legally acquire.”
The Freedom to Read Foundation was created as the First Amendment legal defense organization of the American Library Association.
The Foundation’s charter lists four purposes:
- Promoting and protecting the freedom of speech and of the press;
- Protecting the public’s right of access to information and materials stored in the nation’s libraries;
- Safeguarding libraries’ right to disseminate all materials contained in their collections; and
- Supporting libraries and librarians in their defense of First Amendment rights by supplying them with legal counsel or the means to secure it.
The Foundation’s work is divided into two main activities:
- The allocation and disbursement of grants to individuals and groups primarily for the purpose of aiding them in litigation;
- Direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.
In 1967, the ALA created the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) to monitor censorship, alert librarians to trends, and provide resource materials to local librarians to help them defend challenges to the books on their shelves. It was not long before the OIF realized that librarians needed expert legal support and thus the FTRF was created.
In the first year, the FTRF helped defend a state librarian in Missouri who had been fired after writing a letter to the local paper protesting the suppression of an underground newspaper. In the same year, the Foundation helped a librarian in Virginia who challenged the constitutionality of a religion course in the city schools. The FTRF has filed many legal challenges over the years, especially in those situations where the core mission of libraries needed to be defended. For example, the Foundation has initiated many cases concerning challenged books. However, the FTRF most often appears in court through amicus briefs to support First Amendment claims against legislation and local policies that would restrict access to published material. The Foundation has been involved in numerous fights over the USA Patriot Act. While the FTRF’s work often involves national issues, the Foundation has also helped with community challenges as well.
The Freedom to Read Foundation website has sections with news and updates on current litigation. The most recent news deals with a recent influx of cases dealing with the issue of internet filtering programs and the Children’s Internet Protection Act. http://www.ala.org/groups/affiliates/relatedgroups/freedomtoreadfoundation
This summer, the Foundation recognized the loss of two pioneering authors.
Ray Bradbury died on June 5th. His novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian book itself about censorship continues to be challenged even 60 years after its publication.
Maurice Sendak died on May 8th. His Caldecott-winning book, Where the Wild Things Are, was a part of New Times, Inc. v. Isaacks, an FTRF case. Because he deviated from the norms of children’s book illustration and writing, his work was controversial and challenged.
When the FTRF was formed, its board decided that the Foundation’s operating revenue would come from membership donations rather than corporate or large private contributions. Individual memberships are only $35/year, $10/year for students.
How To Contact The Freedom To Read Foundation
Freedom to Read Foundation
50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: 800.545.2433 ext 4226
As Ray Bradbury said, “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”