BY OLIVIA SIELAFF
High school students in Denver, Colorado, protested last week against a proposed censoring of AP history material.
The Jefferson County school board officials intended the material to promote citizenship and patriotism, and not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law,” according to an article on FoxNews.com.
They wanted to show only the good without the protests, insurrections and revolutions throughout American history. But the students wanted to know what happened in their past.
Often, censorship is seen as a suppressive and negative act, limiting any form of expression for fear of morally corrupting others. Many people wish to ban censorship in all its forms, such as the National Coalition Against Censorship organization.
NCAC gave one reason on their website for banning censorship: for “the right of professors to teach controversial subject matter … the right of students to show and see art that may provoke complaints, and the right of universities to be free of external political pressure.”
Does censorship really suppress the market place of ideas? Or does it guard the morals and conscience of others?
Even with censorship, a person must develop his conscience. There is a level of moral and intellectual character that a person must possess in order to maturely read or view certain content.
Most parents would not let their 6-year-old child watch an R-rated movie. Precisely because the child is not mature and formed enough in conscience, he can’t judge the film critically and realize why it was considered “restricted.”
But this is does not hold unless there are fundamental principles, an underlying truth, a framework of morals to work with. To say what should or shouldn’t be censored cannot ultimately be relative to time, place and circumstance.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not explicitly write about censorship. It does speak on the exercise of freedom – an underlying factor to censorship – saying that freedom is an inalienable necessity reflecting the dignity of man.
“But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything,” the Catechism 1748 states.
When we disregard the political, social and economic conditions by saying or doing anything, we turn from the moral law in our so-called “expressions of freedom.” In fact, we are not respecting this freedom at all. In turn, morality and justice suffer greatly.
While upholding the First Amendment is a duty of every citizen, there is also an obligation to the natural law to exercise that freedom properly and within its boundaries.
A certain reasonableness, caution and sensitivity must be practiced. Too much censoring can be dishonest and intentionally hide the truth, unless to protect the innocent. Too little censoring can be harmful and de-constructive to the formation of a person’s conscience and character, let alone to society.
The students in Jefferson County were looking for honesty in their education. They wanted the whole story of America – the good and the bad – to learn from past mistakes and emulate successes.
But censorship must be guided by the same principles guiding freedom to work for the moral and just formation of the individual and society.
So I leave the questions with you, reader: What are those principles and to what extent should they guide our present kinds of censorship?