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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 2, no. 3, May 2016

Statement Opposes Boycott of North Carolina Bookstores

The anger over the passage of North Carolina House Bill 2 has prompted widespread protest. A letter signed by 269 children’s authors and illustrators said that they will reconsider plans to attend festivals and conferences there, while still appearing at schools and libraries. When Sherman Alexie announced that he was cancelling an appearance at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, many North Carolina booksellers expressed fear that an author boycott would have a chilling effect on free speech as well as inflict economic damage on booksellers who support LGBTQ rights. To address this fear, the American Booksellers Association has joined several groups in issuing a statement supporting free speech and urging authors and illustrators and their publishers not to boycott bookstores.

Louisiana Booksellers Block Internet Restriction

Two New Orleans bookstores, Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, have won an important battle in their challenge to a Louisiana law that would require them to verify the age of visitors to their store websites. A federal judge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, declared on April 29 that the state law violates the First Amendment rights of both website owners and their customers. Judge Brian A. Jackson issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the law because it “creates a chilling effect on free speech.”

Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Book Shop, welcomed the decision. "I'm very relieved,” he said. “This law would have had a definite chilling effect on our business, depriving our customers of books that they have a First Amendment right to browse and buy."

Tom Lowenberg, co-owner of Octavia Books, agreed. “This is an important victory for me as a bookseller and for my customers. The law would have placed an impossible burden on our website by forcing us to ‘ID’ every person who visited the site,” he said.

Protesters Picket Author Appearance at Porter Square Books

More than a dozen protesters picketed noisily outside Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 19. The family and friends of a 16-year-old boy who was murdered by a classmate in 1993, they were protesting an appearance at the bookstore by an author who has written a book about the case that they believe is sympathetic to the killer. The author, Jean Trounstine, uses her book, Boy With a Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice (Ig Publishing), to criticize the practice of imprisoning juveniles in adult prisons. Porter Square owner David Sandberg introduced Trounstine by reading a statement that expressed deep sympathy for the family of Jason Robinson, the victim. He also explained that he had rejected requests to cancel the event because bookstores are places where people are free to make up their own minds about an author’s views.

Governor Vetoes Restriction on Books in VA Schools

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has vetoed a bill that would have had a chilling effect on the selection of books taught in the state’s public schools. In March, American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) joined a letter urging McAuliffe to veto House Bill 516, which required teachers in elementary and secondary schools to notify parents when students would be reading books containing “sexually explicit” content. In their letter to McAuliffe, ABFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship argued that the term “sexually explicit” was not defined and could apply to a wide range of books that are currently taught. They also warned that an isolated passage from a work might be used to judge the whole book.

ALA Releases Top Ten Challenged Books List for 2015

The American Library Association reports that there were 275 challenges in schools and libraries last year. Here are the 10 books that were challenged most frequently:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Hong Kong Booksellers Return to China

Three of the five Hong Kong booksellers who were taken into custody last year by Chinese authorities returned home last month, but they didn’t stay long. Lee Bo, Cheung Chi-ping, and Lui Por returned to the mainland after telling Hong Kong police to cancel the missing persons cases that were filed when they disappeared. They also said they need no further assistance from police. The men are employees of Mighty Current, a publisher and bookseller that has distributed books critical of the Chinese government. The American Booksellers Association had joined those demanding the release of the men.

“Free Speech” Column Discusses Apple vs. Justice Department

In his latest “Free Speech” column, ABFE Director Chris Finan discusses the parallels between bookseller efforts to protect reader privacy and Apple’s refusal to assist the government in accessing the encrypted contents of the cell phone of one of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Although the standoff between Apple and the Justice Department ended when the FBI finally succeeded in searching the phone, the battle over encryption is just beginning.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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