The Holy Bible, along with several other books that incorporate aspects of religion, made the American Library Association’s list of top-10 most challenged books in 2015.
At No. 6 on the list, the Bible was challenged for “religious viewpoints,” based mainly “on the mistaken perception that separation of church and state means publicly funded institutions are not allowed to spend funds on religious information,” said Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom — the organization that tracks the book challenges.
But the Bible wasn’t the only book on the list to be challenged on religious grounds.
The novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was challenged for religious viewpoint and “atheism,” as well as for offensive language.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, a children’s book about a little girl trying to get an education in Afghanistan, was also challenged for religious viewpoint and violence.
The book was challenged in at least one community in Florida because the child protagonist in the story says a prayer to Allah. At least one parent felt that it was indoctrinating children with Muslim beliefs and therefore challenged the book.
The ALA defines a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”
Stone says 275 such challenges were made this year — lower than previous years — and while that’s something the association views as a positive, Stone says not all challenges make it to the Office for Intellectual Freedom database.
“It’s a snapshot,” she said, explaining that the organization relies on voluntary reporting of challenges and its own monitoring of news reports.
The presence of the Bible on the list for the first time, along with the other books challenged on the basis of “religious viewpoint,” show that faith is “very present on the minds of many people in society,” Stone said.
“As a society, considering an ‘index of complaints’ helps us to understand who we are and where we’re going,” James LaRue, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom wrote. “Cultures change over time, and the things we fear, or celebrate, change with them.”
In fact, last year, the children’s book about a transgender girl called I Am Jazz (No. 3 on the list) sparked controversy, discussion, and ultimately, more inclusive school policies in Mt. Horeb, Wisc.
There was a transgender girl in a classroom of a local elementary school and the teachers were going to read I Am Jazz to the students as a way to introduce the issue to the students and make the transgender girl feel less alone, Stone said. But when a parent found out and raised the issue with a Christian advocacy group, the group threatened to sue the school if the book was read. But when the school board capitulated, the “community responded in a beautiful way,” Stone said.
The Wisconsin State Journal covered what happened next:
“In a turnout that stunned organizers, nearly 600 people filled the library here Wednesday night to hear a public reading of a children’s book about a transgender girl, with many in the crowd expressing strong support for a local family with a transgender child.”
Ultimately, the school board changed its policy and allowed the book to be in the schools.
“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 said. “Books are a way of exploring these different worlds and can help us appreciate the differences between us.”