WASHINGTON -- December 7 -- PEN USA, the third largest PEN center in the world, is protesting the attempts of an Alabama lawmaker to ban all books that mention homosexuality from town and university libraries, and destroy existing copies. PEN USAs Freedom to Write First Amendment Action Committee believes this to be blatant government censoring and book burning reminiscent of the most shameful periods in history.
Rep. Gerald Allen, (R-Cottondale) wants to prohibit the use of public funds for the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. Rep. Allen believes our culture is under attack from every angle due to the homosexual agenda.
If the bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that hint at homosexuality being natural would be removed from library shelves and destroyed. Allen suggested digging a big hole and burying them.
"It sounds like Nazi book burning to me," said Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman Mark Potok. He added the ban would remove a good portion of the classics of Western civilizations."
Allen pre-filed his bill in advance of the 2005 legislative session, which begins in February.
There are those that suggest the bill is too broad and unenforceable (even The Bible may fall under its ambiguous guidelines) and will not pass. However, there are those that are worried the bill may pass, especially with the recent Amendment Two outcome that surprised many. (Amendment Two would have removed language mandating school segregation from the state constitution. It was defeated.)
Allens bill would ban books that help children deal with homosexuality in their world, like Heather has Two Mommies. It would also ban classics like The Color Purple, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and even some works of Hemmingway.
The bill would also ban materials that promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of Alabama whether the couples committing the acts are heterosexual or homosexual would not matter. Teachers could not hand out materials or bring in a classroom speaker that would suggest homosexuality was okay.
The ACLU of Alabama noted in a press release, The bill proposed by Representative Gerald Allen that would ban books about gay and lesbian people from public libraries is bad public policy, unconstitutional and just plain wrong.
PEN USA agrees with Jaunita Owes, director of the Montogmery City-County Library, who notes this censorship would be problematic for library collections. Half the books in the library could end up being banned, Owes said, Its all based on how one interprets the material.
PEN USA notes that, by proposing a law which could censor half the books in a library, many of them classics, Rep. Allen is blatantly disregarding the First Amendment. Literature, especially that which sparks discourse, is a necessary part of any culture.
Stephen Rohde, First Amendment lawyer and Vice President of PEN USAs domestic Freedom to Write program, says, "In the years that PEN has monitored assaults on the First Amendment, this is one of the most blatant, mean spirited, divisive and dangerous. This bill if passed would represent an undiluted act of censorship. The government cannot ban books based on their content, outside of limited exceptions such as obscenity or defamation. This proposal deserves the swift and unanimous condemnation of everyone who is devoted to freedom of expression. If we start down this dark and slippery slope, who knows what group or idea will be next on the chopping block."
As a member of International PENs Writers in Prison committee, PEN USA works to secure the release and to support the families of writers of conscience around the world. PEN USAs First Amendment Action Committee, the fastest growing committee at PEN USA, works to support freedom of speech and to protect the First Amendment in the United States.