The Bible listed among most ‘challenged’ books in US

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For the first time, the Bible landed on the top-10 list of books that drew the most protests when found in libraries or classrooms. The problem: its religious viewpoint.

With plenty of books published annually that various groups find offensive, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks tomes that generate the most challenges each year. Usually in recent years, those that dominate the annual listing focus on subjects like homosexuality or contain sexually explicit content – such as the romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” or David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing.”

But the latest list of the top 10 “most challenged” books includes the Bible, the Chicago-based association said on Monday. It was the Bible’s first appearance on the annual list – ever.

“This is not the first time that it’s challenged,” said James LaRue, the director of the association office. “Almost every classic is challenged on a regular basis. The Bible has showed up every year – but this is the first time in top 10.”

LaRue noted that the level of challenges reflects diversity issues that have roiled American society in recent years, with four titles on the top 10 list that deal with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender topics, and three others that delve into religion to varying degrees.

“We have a culture that is pretty sharply divided,” he said. The association’s list, he added,  offers a “kind of snapshot” that “allows us to have a conversation about what makes people today in our culture uncomfortable.”

When challenges to the Bible are reported, by far the most common reason is that people believe that it’s illegal for a public entity – such as a library or school – to own or offer it to patrons and students because of legal traditions that separate church and state.

“That is mistaken,” LaRue said, citing the U.S. Constitution. “We have both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, so we’re free to talk about religion.”

Formal written complaints, filed with a library or school and requesting that materials be removed because of their content or appropriateness, were among the types of challenges counted. The number of challenges reflects only those reported.

“We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported,” the association said in a statement about the results. “Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.”

Courtesy American Library Association

Courtesy American Library Association

On the 2015 top-10 list, the Bible ranked sixth. The top three most-contested were items included “Looking for Alaska,” a young-adult novel by John Green, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James, and “I Am Jazz,” an autobiographical look at being a transgender child by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings.

All three cite concerns over sexually explicit content that is “unsuited for age group.”

From 2000-2009, the association said it received nearly 5,100 complaints – most for “sexually explicit” material and “offensive language.”

Other books had been labeled controversial for religious reasons, including atheism. In the past decade, 291 books or other materials were challenged because of their religious viewpoint. LaRue said that basis stems from whatever the complainant says violates his or her religious beliefs.

The Bible is not on the top 100 such books listed in the 1990s or early 2000s.

The frequency of complaints is of less concern than the fact that significant numbers of challenges are raised over the content of library or classroom materials, the association said. “Our goal is not to focus on the numbers, but to educate the community that censorship is still a very serious problem.”

See the full list of top 10 most-challenged books over the past 15 years here.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.