SPLC joins free speech groups opposing Arizona school book confiscation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEContact: Frank D. LoMonte, executive director703.807.1904 / director@splc.org

In a joint letter released Monday, the Student Press LawCenter and dozens of the nation’s leading free-expression organizationsexpressed alarm over the forced removal of ethnic-history books from theTucson, Ariz., schools.

“Students deserve an education that provides exposure to awide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial,”said the statement, signed by the SPLC and 27 other organizations, includinggroups representing educators, authors and publishers.

The statement follows a mid-January roundup of banned booksordered by the Tucson Unified School District in response to a state edict.Such widely read and well-regarded titles as Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and Rethinking Columbus, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson, wereremoved from classrooms and boxed up.

A 2011 Arizona law, HB 2281, prohibits public schools fromoffering classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily forpupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead ofthe treatment of pupils as individuals.”

John Huppenthal, Arizona’s state superintendent of publicinstruction, declared in June that Tucson’s course of study in Mexican-Americanhistory violated HB 2281 and threatened to impose financial penalties. InDecember, a state administrative law judge agreed with Huppenthal. The statuteis being challenged as unconstitutional in federal court, but on Jan. 10, a U.S.district judge refused to enter an order blocking enforcement of HB 2281.

Earlier this month, in response to Huppenthal’s threat, theTucson Unified School District board voted to scrap Mexican-American studies,and school officials seized dozens of titles that were declared to be taboounder HB 2281.

“The Supreme Court has told us repeatedly, as recently aslast term, that young people have a constitutional right to receive informationthat cannot lightly be overridden by the government,” said attorney Frank D.LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “Banning books isa radical step, and ‘protecting’ students from controversial ideas is never alegally or educationally sound justification for such drastic action.”

The executive director of the National Coalition AgainstCensorship, Joan Bertin, called the removal of the books “censorship at itsmost brazen.” Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation forFree Expression, said, “Regardless of the outcome of legal proceedings, this isharming students, whose education should be the primary concern of electedofficials. Instead they are puttingpolitics and ideology ahead of the well-being of young people.”

The entire letter is viewable here.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted toeducating high school and college journalists about the rights andresponsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the studentnews media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free information andeducational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a widevariety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.