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Shapiro: Freedom of expression, speech and beliefs is uniquely American in all forms they appear

Gary Shapiro is a Scottsdale Charro, Realtor and co-founder of Scottsdale Leadership — and steward of the community of Scottsdale. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)
Banning books, innovation of thought and new ideas are not American ideals
By Gary Shapiro | Point of View

Some of our neighbors and elected officials are going to considerable efforts to determine what is suitable for others to read, and how we should think.

I believe their efforts are ill advised and detrimental to our public schools, our society, and our democracy.

Many of the books previously labeled as controversial throughout history are now regarded as all-time classics. The Bible and works by Shakespeare are among those that have been banned over the past two thousand years.

Civilizations and societies that advocated bans, book burnings and restrictions on free speech have often gone down in history as pariahs.

Here are a few classic examples of some famous works that demonstrate why we need to protect our freedoms and reject any efforts to be controlled or dictated.

In 2013, a young Malala in Pakistan wrote “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” was banned in 40,000 libraries. She went on to receive the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1987, famed poet and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was banned in North Carolina. Angelou went on to receive national respect and recognition as a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient in 2011.

In 1983, Alabama banned “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Historically, it is regarded as one of the most important books ever written.

In the 1980s, the London County Council in England banned the use of Beatrix Potter’s children’s classic “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” from all London schools.

In 1954, Mickey Mouse comics were banned in East Berlin. It’s important to remember that East Berlin was not a stronghold for freedom at the time.

A series of massive bonfires in Nazi Germany in 1933 burned thousands of books written by a wide variety of important authors such as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, and Jack London.

In 1931, “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll was banned by the governor of the Hunan province in China because, he said, animals should not use human language.

In 1929, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was banned in the Soviet Union. In the same year, Jack London’s popular novel “Call of the Wild” was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia.

In 1885, a year after the publication of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”, the library of Concord, Massachusetts decided to exclude the book from its collection. By 1907, Twain’s novel had been thrown out of some library somewhere every year, mostly because its hero was said to present a bad example for impressionable young readers.

In 1859, Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published, outlining the theory of evolution. The book was banned from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Darwin had been a student.

In 1788, Shakespeare’s “King Lear” was banned from the stage until 1820 in deference to the insecurities of the reigning monarch, King George III.

Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, was banned by the Spanish Catholic Church in 1720.

From 1616 to 1642, Galileo’s theories about the solar system and his support of the discoveries of Copernicus were condemned by the Catholic Church. Under threat of torture, and sentenced to jail at the age of 70, the great scientist was forced to renounce what he knew to be true.

Martin Luther’s 1624 German translation of the Bible was burned in Germany by order of the Pope.

In 1597, the original version of Shakespeare’s “Richard II” contained a scene in which the king was deposed from his throne. Queen Elizabeth I was so angry that she ordered the scene removed from all copies of the play.

The American flag is a symbol of freedom and unity. The 50 stars represent the 50 states, and the 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies. The colors of the flag have special meanings: red represents courage, white represents purity, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)
Freedom of expression, speech and beliefs is uniquely American in all forms they appear

Starting in 1559, for hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church published a list of books that worshippers were prohibited to read. It was one of the most powerful censorship efforts ever promulgated in the world.

According to legend in the year 640, caliph Omar burned all 200,000 volumes in the library at Alexandria in Egypt. In doing so, he said “If these writings of the Greeks agree with the Book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed.

In the year 35, the Roman emperor Caligula opposed the reading of “The Odyssey” by Homer, which was written more than 300 years prior. He thought the epic poem was dangerous because it expressed Greek ideas of freedom.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.

Our society benefits and is strongest when we promote and protect our freedoms.

Editor’s note: Gary Shapiro is a Scottsdale Charro, Realtor and co-founder of Scottsdale Leadership.

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