Spotlight on Censorship – The Bible

Banned Books Week, Censorship, Office for Intellectual Freedom


The Bible
“Where all men think alike, no one thinks very much.” — Walter Lippman

In light of the recent controversy over the high-profile threat of Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida to burn the Quran to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, today the Spotlight on Censorship profiles the Bible.  This religious tome has its own intriguing history of challenges and bans, including several reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Among the most noteworthy censorship controversies concerning the Bible took place in 1624, when copies Martin Luther’s 1534 translation were burned in Germany with Papal authority.  Three centuries later, the Bible was banned when Soviet officials decreed that libraries must “contain solely anti-religious books.”  The Bible was not published again in the USSR until 1956.  Fast forwarding to 1993, the Bible was challenged in the Noel Wien Library in Fairbanks, Alaska for being “obscene and pornographic,” but was ultimately retained.

That same year, the Bible again was challenged and retained in the West Shores schools in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania amid complaints that it contains “language and satires that are inappropriate for children of any age, including tales of incest and murder.”*

Finally, a planned Bible burning in North Carolina last year became instead a “Bible shredding” party after the pastor behind the event was threatened with fines for violating city ordinances.

*Note: This challenge, by an atheist parent, hearkens back to this excerpt from Twain’s autobiography in which he confronts the restriction in libraries of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

About once a year some pious public library banishes Huck Finn from its children’s department, and on the same plea always–that Huck, the neglected and untaught son of a town drunkard, is given to lying, when in difficulty and hard pressed, and is therefore a bad example for young people, and a damager of their morals.

Two or three years ago I was near by when one of these banishments was decreed and advertised, and I went over and asked the librarian about it, and he said yes, Huck was banished for lying. I asked,

“Is there nothing else against him?”

“No, I think not.”

“Do you banish all books that are likely to defile young morals, or do you stop with Huck?”

“We do not discriminate; we banish all that are hurtful to young morals.”

I picked up a book, and said–

“I see several copies of this book lying around. Are the young forbidden to read it?”

“The Bible? Of course not.”

“Why not?”

“That is a strange question to ask.”

“Very well, then I withdraw it. Are you acquainted with the passages in Huck which are held to be objectionable?”

He said he was; and at my request he took pen and paper and proceeded to write them down for me. Meantime I stepped to a desk and wrote down some extracts from the Bible. I showed them to him and said I would take it as a favor if he would attach his extracts to mine and post them on the wall, so that the people could examine them and see which of the two sets they would prefer to have their young boys and girls read.

He replied coldly that he was willing to post the extracts which he had made, but not those which I had made.


He replied–still coldly–that he did not wish to discuss the matter. I asked if he had some boys and girls in his family, and he said he had. I asked–

“Do you ever read to them these extracts which I have made?”

“Of course not!”

“You don’t need to. They read them to themselves, clandestinely. All Protestant children of both sexes do it, and have been doing it for several centuries. You did it yourself when you were a boy. Isn’t it so?”

He hesitated, then said no. I said–

“You have lied, and you know it. I think you have been reading Huck Finn, yourself, and damaging your morals.”


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