Steven Pico, Supreme Court Victor, on Book Banning in Schools

By July 11, 2013

Book banning is a simple but sinister form of censorship that hinders a student’s education rather than improving it. As a high school student in 1976, Steven Pico recognized the hazards of censorship and led the challenge to book banning in his school district. Earlier this week, the National Coalition Against Censorship’s (NCAC’s) Debra Lau Whelan interviewed Pico in honor of the 31st anniversary of Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico (1982), the first school library book-banning case to be decided by the Supreme Court. What began as one student’s quest to put library books back on the shelves became a historic court case in which the Court reaffirmed the principles underlying Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), which held that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Although FIRE focuses solely on civil rights in higher education, Pico’s comments on junior and high school censorship are important to remember regardless of the context: For me, censorship was not simply a right-wing vs. left-wing issue, and I tried my best to frame the debate on censorship my own way. I believe censorship is offensive to the vast majority of Americans, offensive to Americans from the right, offensive to Americans from the center, and offensive to Americans from the left. FIRE’s Will Creeley recently emphasized precisely this point in the context of protecting speech on college campuses. Pico ends on an optimistic note; he believes “more young people are informed and passionate about their rights, and responsibilities to stand up despite the cost, today than at any previous time in American history.” Indeed, a quick look at FIRE’s work reveals the inspiring number of students willing to do what it takes to protect their rights on campus. And students looking to join the fight in promoting free speech on their campuses should check out FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus series, or join FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network!