The Censorship Issue

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

~ article 19, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The United Nations


Censorship: the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the [American] government is unconstitutional because freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment, and is guaranteed to all Americans.

~ from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) website


Freedom of Expression: In countries around the world, the right to express one’s thoughts and beliefs is under assault.
Throughout the world, individuals face harassment and imprisonment as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression. Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas without fear or interference.
This right is important for the personal development and dignity of every individual and is vital for the fulfillment of other human rights.

~ Amnesty International


reedom of expression. It’s a basic human right guaranteed to each and every one of us by the United Nations. But does this freedom in reality truly exist?

We’ve all experienced censorship, been touched by it, in one way or another. Even here in Combustus magazine.

After running the interview and article on the Spanish painter, Dino Valls, (see “When a Surgeon Paints” and, “What’s on Dino Valls’ Mind?“) Combustus lost support of one of its key sponsors. The notice came with a qualifier: Remove the articles, and the funding would be returned. We refused.

As a city librarian, censorship was a hovering threat with each controversial book I purchased. Of course what qualifies as offensive differs with one each of us, even among librarians. And so the directive straight from the ALA  (American Library Association) itself, mandating librarians to not let our personal sensitivities dictate the books and materials purchased or not purchased for the public: “Policies should not unjustly exclude materials and resources even if they are offensive to the librarian or the user…Toleration is meaningless without tolerance for what some may consider detestable.

And yet still, each year at this time during “Banned Book Week” (the last week in September) the American Library Association compiles and shares the titles of all those books challenged or banned just in the past year and in the United States alone.

And each year, the list is astounding.

So where and when is censorship beneficial to a free-thinking society? If I want to exorcise my right to have removed from public view a book or work of art I might find objectionable, am I comfortable with my neighbor having this same option also? What does it mean when we say a work has just gone too far? What are the benefits to quieting artistic expression? And what are the costs?

In these special-to-Combustus articles that follow, in which poets and teachers share their personal experiences with censorship, we raise these very questions and invite you to share how you fall on this issue yourself. Where do you yourself stand on the issue of personal freedoms?

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Censorship in the High School: Missing the Point About What We Deem Offensive

“This was no student vandal…much worse. This was the work of one of my colleagues.”


Richard Krawiek profile photo

Censorship and the Sins of Omission: The Plight of the Independent Presses

“But there is another type of book banning – a banning by omission, rather than commission – that goes unnoticed. Marketplace censorship, the de facto banning of books by independent presses that don’t have advertising budgets, or distribution deals with one of the few book distributors who have a virtual monopoly on distributing to bookstores and libraries.”

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Postcard From Pakistan: Cross-Cultural Friendships Drown Out the Silencing

“Many American friends might be even surprised to know that despite a big public outcry about US drone attacks and high civilian casualties, a large number of Pakistanis don’t blame or hate the American people. They understand that Americans are as much victims of this present ‘war’ as we are. This understanding, this acceptance, is born of the deep spirituality permeating most of our society.”

Ajay Brainard robin with fieldmouse 

 Connecticut Naturalist Ajay Brainard Paints Death As Part of the Flow of Life

“My paintings are an exploration of my inner self and speak to the feelings and emotions that are related to the experiences of life. They are not purely portrayals of death; they are windows into my soul…”

Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.

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