Celebrating Freedom of Expression

Publishers cherish and champion the freedoms to read, write and publish. In the U.S., the First Amendment guarantees constitutional safeguards for these freedoms and underpins our ability to fight side by side with librarians, booksellers, universities and authors against book bans, censorship regulations and efforts to chill free speech. Abroad, we have kept many individuals’ voices from being silenced in countries that seek to oppress the written dissemination of dissenting thought. Because literacy is integral to preserving free expression, healthy communities and thriving economies, AAP and our member publishers are also deeply engaged in local and national efforts to promote reading and literacy for kids and adults. 

    Publishers Depend on the First Amendment

    Each year, U.S. book and journal publishers bring hundreds of thousands of new titles to market—from political exposés to scientific breakthroughs to children’s stories—including works that they, the government or certain readers may not necessarily agree with or like. The industry can do this only because of the freedoms and protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.

    “Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievance.”

    —The First Amendment

    First, the First Amendment assumes that all speech is constitutionally protected, except for some very narrowly defined categories, such as child pornography, true threats, or speech that will incite imminent lawless action. This broad interpretation of free speech has enabled the industry to publish works such as “The Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller (often banned for sexual content), “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (often banned for “insensitivity” or negativity), “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky (often banned for sexual content), “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini (often banned for religious reasons and homosexuality) and “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie (often banned in Islamic countries for blasphemy).  

    Second, the broad body of First Amendment law enables U.S. publishers to print an author’s critique, exposé, or other unflattering, but true account of a person, political group, or religious organization without the threat of being sued for libel, which only protects against publication of false information that damages a reputation. For instance, Lawrence Wright, author of “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” (Knopf 2013) catalogues the Church of Scientology’s attempts to suppress articles and books that criticize its practices, including reports from authors that they were spied on, had their phones tapped, and, in one case, had forged letters sent to colleagues regarding involvement in a homosexual relationship. Wright, his editor and his publisher all dealt with threatening letters from the Church’s lawyers and requests to review the contents of “Going Clear,” but prevailed in the end, publishing what has become a critically-acclaimed bestseller, which was recently adapted into a highly-regarded documentary.      

    These First Amendment protections are essential to the publishers and authors  that create thousands of new works each year on the widest array of topics, reflecting viewpoints that are often suppressed in other countries. Americans, in turn, benefit from the greatest amount of choice in reading materials than anywhere else in the world.

    Combating Censorship

    Despite clear protections of First Amendment law, attempts to ban books continue in the U.S.. Since 1990, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has documented more than 20,000 attempts to ban various books, typically within schools and libraries.

    Defending the freedom of authors and publishers to create and disseminate works on all topics from all perspectives is integral to a free society and has been a core tenet of AAP’s mission since our founding. It is this willingness to defend the principles of free speech and a free press, regardless of content, that guarantee the unfettered and creative expression of new authors and artists in our country.

    “[The] freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth…. [I]t is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination.…”

    —Louis Brandeis, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1916 to 1939

    AAP monitors for attempts at censorship and takes action to combat it through courts, legislatures, partnership initiatives, public education programs, and our Freedom to Read Committee.

    Find Out More: Combating Censorship

    Why publishers cherish and champion the freedoms to read, write and publish

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    Supporting Academic Freedom

    Academic Freedom is the freedom of faculty to determine the substance of the courses they teach and the materials they use to teach those courses. Without the latitude and independence to structure a course as they like with materials they choose, faculty are greatly hindered in their ability to “be exemplars of open-mindedness and free inquiry” and to determine how best to drive their students’ academic success. (Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 (1952)).

    For some instructors, Academic Freedom may involve a choice of competing textbooks.  In choosing one text over the other, faculty are making a choice that goes to the heart of what they view as the subject matter, what they think is most important for students to learn and how to best engage them in the learning experience.  Textbooks and other learning materials are an essential component both of “what may be taught” and of “how it shall be taught.”  Course materials are not limited to textbooks and digital content. They may also include literature, poetry, graphics and open access materials. By the choices they make, faculty are defining the substance of their course and determining how best to communicate that content to their students. For that reason, the adoption of textbooks involves the exercise of Academic Freedom protected by the First Amendment.

    As the Supreme Court has said: “Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.” (Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967)).

    Recently, a trend has emerged of state legislation being introduced that directly infringe the freedom of faculty to choose the learning materials they believe best suited for their classrooms.  These bills offend First Amendment principles and, if enacted, would likely be struck down by the courts.  The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that a “university is characterized by the spirit of free inquiry, its ideal being the ideal of Socrates – to follow the argument where it leads.” (Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 US 234, 262-263 (1957)). The selection of course materials – materials that provide the guideposts to “free inquiry” – are a very important component of Academic Freedom.

    Find Out More: New Infringements on Academic Freedom

    What academic freedom in higher education means for institutions, faculty, students and publishers.

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    Promoting Literacy and Reading

    Reading and literacy are vital to a successful publishing industry, a thriving economy, and an informed, engaged and free society. Studies from literacy watch groups across the country repeatedly show strong connections among literacy rates, early access to print materials, and quality of life outcomes.

    AAP and member publishers stimulate reading and literacy for people of all ages and socioeconomic status through many avenues. These include the Get Caught Reading campaign, the annual Adopt-a-School events, our Book Donation Initiative, and a commitment to publishing titles that resonate with audiences of many cultures and creeds.

    Find Out More: Promoting Literacy and Reading

    AAP's numerous efforts in support of literacy promote easy access to books and the joy of reading for pleasure for all ages

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    Additional AAP Resources

    See Also