UT Libraries panel discusses book banning

Wes Scarborough

UT Libraries held a panel for National Banned Books Week on Wednesday, days after Highland Park ISD banned seven books from its curriculum in response to a dispute over censorship.

At the Perry-Castañeda Library, seven panelists discussed book banning in honor of Banned Books Week, a week dedicated to celebrating the freedom to read. Moderated by English language graduate student Maley Thompson, the panelists discussed censorship, the First Amendment and controversial literature. 

“Most of us do not get our information from books anymore, nor do we see the red marks or the burning flames we might think of as banning” Thompson said.

Thompson said the term “banned books” is synonymous with controversial thought and speech.

“Books are dangerous, and they should be dangerous,” screenwriter and panelist Owen Egerton said. “They make people do dangerous things — quit their jobs, quit school, stop believing in God, fall in love or even take drugs.”  

First Amendment discussion dominated the panel, and groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church and neo-Nazis were mentioned to identify the extremes of speech that the First Amendment has permitted.

“That’s the value of the First Amendment,” said Satinder Singh, panelist and staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s there to defend the most outrageous, disgusting ideas, but at the same time, it’s there to expand our education and who we cover in history.”

Singh said schools usually feel the effects of First Amendment issues that affect society as a whole.

“Schools are really microcosms of trends of what is going on in society,” Singh said.  

Thompson asked the panel what topics are not being addressed in literature.

“We are being encouraged to write about what the market wants us to write about,” Egerton said. “I draw hungry to the stories of people I don’t understand.”

Other panelists included information professor Loriene Roy, Tony Diaz, a Librotraficante book smuggler, and Dan Murphy, project coordinator at Inside Books Project, a nonprofit that donates free books to prisoners.