Lynchburg expert discusses First Amendment debate over banned books

(WFXR) — Debates over appropriate reading materials are nothing new, according to Lynchburg University’s chair of political science and international relations, Professor David Richards.

“It’s something that’s been happening historically since the books have been around,” he said.

Richards said the Supreme Court allows books to be banned from public institutions for two reasons: if the book incites violence against people or the government, or if the book contains obscene material harmful to the community.

“That’s basically all they said. So what is obscene? What is the Community Standard? That’s up for debate,” Richards said.

Current concerns are that the books are banned based on political beliefs, not legal justifications.

Richards added that even books with foul language or sexually explicit content are defended in court. If they have artistic value or are considered “widely accepted”.

“A lot of times these books are books used in literature classes,” Richards noted. “The bar can be a little different there because the students are forced to read those books that they find objectionable.”

In Roanoke, people like Evelyn Bumbalough weighed in.

“Teachers are the ones in the classroom with the students, they have the academic background to decide,” she said.

Nathaniel Myers says it should belong to the government, but should be used lightly.

“It should be up to the state to produce a program that is going to be well informed and prepare people for the future and not worry about offending people,” he said.

PEN America is an organization that supports literary freedom and declared 2021 the highest year for banned books on record. In addition to more than 300 books banned last year containing LGBTQ+ content, more than 400 books have protagonists of color, organizers said. Biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez are also included.

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