Free Speech Organizations Report to UN About Censorship In Prisons and Schools

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While people all over the world celebrate Banned Books Week and the fight against censorship, two organizations are pushing for even more serious progress. According to a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Review, “widespread censorship” of books is a major problem for U.S. prisons and schools, where works from renowned figures like Shakespeare and Van Gogh are being banned in prisons in Texas for containing sexually explicit material. This news was first reported in an article from The Guardian.

The report was submitted to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review from two free-speech organizations: the US-based National Coalition Against Censorship and the Denmark-based Freemuse.

The report in question cites the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as the main example, where 11,851 titles have been banned from their prisons. “Of the 11,851 total blocked titles, 7,061 were blocked for ‘deviant sexual behaviour’ and 543 for sexually explicit images,” says the report. “Anthologies on Greco-Roman art, the pre-Raphaelites, impressionism, Mexican muralists, pop surrealism, graffiti art, art deco, art nouveau and the National Museum of Women in the Arts are banned for the same reason, as are numerous textbooks on pencil drawing, watercolour, oil painting, photography, graphic design, architecture and anatomy for artists,” the report went on to say. Works from Gustav Flaubert, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, George Orwell, Ovid, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Shakespeare and Alice Walker were all found on the banned book list. The report also touched on American schools, where people like Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and Alice Walker are examples of writers banned based on “objections centering around moral and religious reasons.”

The report said that “to survey the list of works banned by the TDCJ is to appreciate the dangers of the broad discretionary powers granted to prison officials under the concept of legitimate penological interest.” The organizations believe the U.S. is failing its prisoners, saying that this censorship “diminishes vital artistic and creative freedoms that are both integral to the dignity of the person and instrumental to the enjoyment and defense of a culture of human rights.”

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