Strike up the banned: The Bible is among the most-challenged library books, RNS reports

Secularists often chide evangelical Christians for nursing a persecution complex, but you know the old saying: Just 'cause you're paranoid …

And the paranoids among us won't be reassured by a new report that the Bible was one of the most challenged books in libraries last year.

The holy book, says the Religion News Service, sits among other books that many church people would reject:

(RNS) What does the Bible have in common with "Fifty Shades of Grey" or one of John Green’s best-selling young adult novels?
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bible made the list of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books last year.
The 2015 list was released Monday (April 11) as part of the ALA’s 2016 State of America’s Libraries report. It includes books that have drawn formal, written complaints from the public because of their content or appropriateness, according to the ALA.
The Bible, which came in at No. 6, was challenged for its "religious viewpoint," the ALA said.

The story reveals a trend since 2009 of growing complaints about books in libraries that contain "religious viewpoints," the article says. Sounds like the RNS writer, Emily McFarlan Miller, asked some penetrating questions.

What about before 2000? Well, back then, most complaints were about "sexually explicit material, offensive language or being unsuitable for the intended age group," the article says. Today, the growing edge is over religious content.

From the list, though, ALA seems to include sexuality in what constitutes a religious viewpoint:

Also challenged for the same reason: "I Am Jazz" by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, a picture book about a transgender child based on Jennings’ experience; "Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out" by Susan Kuklin, which follows transgender or gender-neutral teenagers through their personal acknowledgments of gender identity; "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon, a murder-mystery that drew complaints for "profanity and atheism"; and "Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan" by Jeanette Winter, about a young Afghan girl attending school under the Taliban.

RNS being a religion news service, the Bible gets much of the attention in this article. Some of the comments from James LaRue, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (dontcha just love that title?), are startling.

Like why he thinks the Bible is on the list: "There’s almost a little retaliatory feel to people speaking up against the Bible because they want to go on record as being opposed to Christian opposition to LGBT (issues) or Christian opposition to Islam."

Or when he decries the "persistent mistaken belief that separation of church and state says that you can’t find a Bible — or really any religious scripture — in a public library or school library, and that’s just wrong."

Whoa. If that came from, say, the Family Research Council, or maybe GetReligion, you might well figure "Well, of course they would say that." But to get it from a major officer of the American Library Association is a whole 'nuther thing.

But fair is fair. At that point, RNS should have questioned LaRue more closely.  Something like: "Those are pretty strong statements. What were your sources? Is it perhaps just your general impression that people are retaliating against Christianity by trying to ban Bibles? Have you heard it yourself from someone? Or did you see it in anecdotes from librarians?"

Anecdotes, in fact, are a major method for compiling the Top 10 List. As the association's website freely concedes, the list is "based on anecdotal data derived from media stories and voluntary reports sent to OIF about book challenges in communities across the United States." That's not a deal breaker, but the RNS article should have been upfront about it.

I wish LaRue had spelled out why the separation of church and state isn’t breached by stocking religious scriptures in public libraries. It's possible that RNS considered the question too elementary. But if the Bible's presence in libraries is being challenged so much, a lot of people must need to learn this basic civics lesson.

I did like RNS mentioning other categories of complaints: books about homosexuality, and about occult or satanic themes. Even the belief that some books were "anti-family." (I notice that at least two of the books -- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin -- were challenged on grounds of both religion and homosexuality.) LaRue says the complaints show "What are the things we fear in our culture?"  

RNS also answers the question: If the Bible came in at Number 6, who's Number 1? That would be John Green, for his book Looking for Alaska. And for "the usual reasons: sexually explicit material, offensive language and being considered unsuitable for its intended age group."

It's somehow comforting that some things don’t change.

FYI, you can see the whole the Top Ten list on ALA's website. Each one is annotated with the reasons it offends people. Interestingly, only Beyond Magenta drew political objections.

The site also has other details on how the research was done, plus the previous Top Ten lists going back to 2001. You may recognize past controversial titles like Brave New World, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, and of course The Catcher in the Rye.

Thumb: "Grandma's Well Read Bible." J. Sullivan.


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