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Alvarez Decision - June 28, 2012

Posted By Barbara Jones, FTRF Executive Director, Thursday, June 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012

FTRF Counsel Theresa Chmara’s provides this concise summary of the meaning of the SCOTUS decision on Alvarez, June 28, 2012. The Freedom to Read Foundation joined an amicus brief that was, in my view, brilliantly written because this was a difficult case.  We won one! 


The Supreme Court held today that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.  The Stolen Valor Act was a federal statute that criminalized false statements about receiving military honors. The case arose when Xavier Alvarez falsely claimed to be a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The Freedom to Read Foundation joined an amicus brief arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment because all speech is presumptively protected by the First Amendment against content-based regulation, subject only to specific traditional historic exceptions and that false speech does not fit within any of these historical exceptions.  Six justices agreed that the Act was unconstitutional.  Justice Kennedy wrote a plurality opinion in which he was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor holding that some false speech may be criminalized but his opinion "rejects the notion that false speech should be in a general category that is presumptively unprotected.”  Justice Kennedy summed up the reasoning for his opinion: 


The Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace. Though few might find re­spondent’s statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Consti­tution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment.


Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan, concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to argue that the Act should be held unconstitutional because "the statute works First Amendment harm, while the Govern­ment can achieve its legitimate objectives in less restric­tive ways.”  Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissented.

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Booth is 2012 Conable Scholarship recipient

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Steven Booth

Steven Booth, and archivist with the NARA, was named recipient of FTRF's 2012 Gordon M. Conable Conference Scholarship.  As scholarship recipient, Booth receives transportation, housing, and registration to the 2012 American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim.

Read the press release here.

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Michael Bamberger wins Roll of Honor Award

Posted By Jonathan M. Kelley, Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Congratulations to Michael A. Bamberger, winner of the 2012 FTRF Roll of Honor Award!  Bamberger, who serves as General Counsel for Media Coaltion, will be presented with the award at the Opening General Session of the 2012 American Library Association Annual Conference, Friday, June 22 in Anaheim.

Tags:  Bamberger  Media Coalition  Roll of Honor 

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Ray Bradbury, icon of the freedom to read

Posted By FTRF Staff, Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012

We learned with sadness of the death of pioneering science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury. Bradbury will perhaps best be remembered for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, which, nearly 60 years after its publication, remains one of the most important works of art about censorship—and a target of would-be censors.

Some of the challenges to Bradbury’s work, as recorded by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and published in ALA’s Banned Books Resource Guide by Robert P. Doyle:

Fahrenheit 451: Expurgated at the Venado Middle School in Irvine. Students received copies of the book with scores of words—mostly "hells” and "damns”—blacked out. After receiving complaints from parents and being contacted by reporters, school officials said the censored copies would no longer be used. (CA 1992)

Challenged at the Conroe Independent School District because of the following: "discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, ‘dirty talk,’ references to the Bible, and using God’s name in vain.” The novel went against the complaintants’ "religious beliefs.” (TX 2006)

The Martian Chronicles: Challenged at the Haines City High School due to several instances of profanity and the use of God’s name in vain in the work. (FL 1982)

Pulled and replaced with a newer version at the Herbert Hoover Middle School in Edison because a chapter contains the words "the niggers are coming.” The new abridged edition of the book omits the inflammatory story, titled "Way Up in the Air.” (NJ 1998)

The Veldt: Retained on the Beaverton School District’s reading list. The short story was challenged by a middle-school parent who thought its language and plot were inappropriate for students. Her biggest concern is that the story offers no consequences for the children’s actions. The short story is part of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man anthology. It is twenty pages long and was published in 1951 as the first in the collection of eighteen science fiction stories.

OIF also has received notification of multiple challenges to Bradbury’s story "The Sound of Thunder.”

Fahrenheit 451 is the second selection of the FAIFE Book Club, co-sponsored by OIF and IFLA’s Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression. This international, online initiative will feature resources and events on the book through sum­mer 2012. For more information, visit faifebookclub.ala.org.

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Maurice Sendak, beloved and controversial children’s author

Posted By FTRF Staff, Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012

On May 8, brilliant author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died. Sendak wrote In the Night Kitchen, one of the most frequently challenged books of the past 30 years due to a drawing featuring a nude boy. (It also has been defaced many times by librarians and others who drew shorts or diapers on Mikey, the book’s protagonist.) His Some Swell Pup was challenged at the Multnomah, OR, County Library because in it a dog urinates on people, and children abuse animals.

A side note: Sendak’s inimitable Where the Wild Things Are was a key part of one of FTRF’s more interesting cases of the past decade. Not because of a censorship challenge, however ... well, not an actual censorship challenge.

In November 2003, FTRF partnered with the Association of American Publishers and thirteen other groups in submitting an amicus brief to the Texas Supreme Court in support of a newspaper’s right to engage in political satire as a means of commenting on government officials’ actions. In the case, a judge and district attorney claimed they were libeled by the Dallas Observer, after the paper (an alternative weekly) published a fictitious article criticizing the officials’ role in jailing a 13-year-old boy for writing a school-assigned essay for Halloween, which discussed the shooting of a teacher and two students. The article recounted the jailing of a six-year-old girl for "suspicion of making a terrorist threat” in a book report on Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

On September 3, 2005, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Observer, saying the article was satire and protected by the First Amendment, and thus the officials could not sue for libel. The case was New Times, Inc. v. Isaacks.


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