What Do The Bible and Fifty Shades of Grey Have in Common? Book Banning

Believe it or not, Fifty Shades of Grey and the Bible have wound up on the same book list: the American Library Association’s “Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged” books of 2015. John Green’s Looking for Alaska tops the list, which identifies the books — including nonfiction and picture books — that were most frequently recommended for censorship last year.

Here’s the full list, compiled annually by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF):

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  3. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  6. The Holy Bible
  7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  8. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
  10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

OIF bases its rankings on “anecdotal data derived from media stories and voluntary reports sent to OIF about book challenges in communities across the United States.” The organization defines a “challenge” as “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” OIF estimates that “for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported.”

The most common reasons for the 2015 book challenges include “unsuited for age group,” “religious viewpoint,” “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and “sexually explicit.” Fifty Shades of Grey fell victim to censorship due to concerns that it’s “poorly written,” and that “a group of teenagers will want to try it.” People objected to Two Boys Kissing because it involves homosexuality and “condones public displays of affection.”

The “religious viewpoint” challenge had a number of different applications. People challenged The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, for instance, because of its “atheism.” NPR reports that a Florida parent challenged Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan out of fear that it would “indoctrinat[e] children with Muslim beliefs.” Deborah Caldwell Stone–deputy director of OIF–told NPR that people challenged the Bible, which appears on the list for the first time this year, based “on the mistaken perception that separation of church and state means publicly funded institutions are not allowed to spend funds on religious information.”

OIF publishes its annual list of challenged books to promote the freedom of information in libraries and schools, and to remind the public that “censorship is still a very serious problem.” “In an ideal world we would have more tolerance for the idea that people have different ideas, different beliefs and live in different cultures,” Stone told NPR. “Books are a way of exploring these different worlds and can help us appreciate the differences between us.”

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