The Freedom to Read Statement

Seventy years ago, leaders from across the literary world joined together in writing to condemn attacks on free expression. The statement at the heart of that endeavor, the Freedom to Read Statement, was authored by the American Library Association and Association of American Publishers over a period of several days. It begins with this timeless observation:

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack.    

A resurgence of attacks on the freedom to read again threatens our democracy. Calls for book bans, the adoption of unconstitutional legislation, and campaigns to criminalize the work of librarians, teachers, booksellers and other individuals for distributing materials protected by the First Amendment threaten our fundamental liberties. 

Recognizing that the battle to preserve our freedoms is as old as the freedoms themselves, the American Library Association and the Association of American Publishers have reconvened on this 70th Anniversary of the Freedom to Read statement to reaffirm its timeless message, joined by the Authors Guild and American Booksellers Association. Together, we recommit to the proposition that the freedom to read is essential to our democracy and the birthright of all persons regardless of their beliefs or political persuasion.

We invite Americans who believe in the freedom to read to sign onto our campaign. 

Subsequently endorsed by:

Freedom to Read Statement

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label "controversial" views, to distribute lists of "objectionable" books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.

Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be "protected" against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.

These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials.

Such pressure toward conformity is perhaps natural to a time of accelerated change. And yet suppression is never more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.

Now as always in our history, reading is among our greatest freedoms. The freedom to read and write is almost the only means for making generally available ideas or manners of expression that can initially command only a small audience. The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth. It is essential to the extended discussion that serious thought requires, and to the accumulation of knowledge and ideas into organized collections.

We believe that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. We believe that these pressures toward conformity present the danger of limiting the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend. We believe that every American community must jealously guard the freedom to publish and to circulate, in order to preserve its own freedom to read. We believe that publishers and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings.

The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. Those with faith in free people will stand firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights and will exercise the responsibilities that accompany these rights.

We therefore affirm these propositions:

1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.

Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested. Totalitarian systems attempt to maintain themselves in power by the ruthless suppression of any concept that challenges the established orthodoxy. The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them. To stifle every nonconformist idea at birth would mark the end of the democratic process. Furthermore, only through the constant activity of weighing and selecting can the democratic mind attain the strength demanded by times like these. We need to know not only what we believe but why we believe it.

2. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.

Publishers and librarians serve the educational process by helping to make available knowledge and ideas required for the growth of the mind and the increase of learning. They do not foster education by imposing as mentors the patterns of their own thought. The people should have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of ideas than those that may be held by any single librarian or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what one can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.

3. It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.

No art or literature can flourish if it is to be measured by the political views or private lives of its creators. No society of free people can flourish that draws up lists of writers to whom it will not listen, whatever they may have to say.

4. There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.

To some, much of modern expression is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We cut off literature at the source if we prevent writers from dealing with the stuff of life. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity of experiences in life to which they will be exposed, as they have a responsibility to help them learn to think critically for themselves. These are affirmative responsibilities, not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading works for which they are not yet prepared. In these matters values differ, and values cannot be legislated; nor can machinery be devised that will suit the demands of one group without limiting the freedom of others.

5. It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.

The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.

6. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people's freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information.

It is inevitable in the give and take of the democratic process that the political, the moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group will occasionally collide with those of another individual or group. In a free society individuals are free to determine for themselves what they wish to read, and each group is free to determine what it will recommend to its freely associated members. But no group has the right to take the law into its own hands, and to impose its own concept of politics or morality upon other members of a democratic society. Freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted and the inoffensive. Further, democratic societies are more safe, free, and creative when the free flow of public information is not restricted by governmental prerogative or self-censorship.

7. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a "bad" book is a good one, the answer to a "bad" idea is a good one.

The freedom to read is of little consequence when the reader cannot obtain matter fit for that reader's purpose. What is needed is not only the absence of restraint, but the positive provision of opportunity for the people to read the best that has been thought and said. Books are the major channel by which the intellectual inheritance is handed down, and the principal means of its testing and growth. The defense of the freedom to read requires of all publishers and librarians the utmost of their faculties, and deserves of all Americans the fullest of their support.

We state these propositions neither lightly nor as easy generalizations. We here stake out a lofty claim for the value of the written word. We do so because we believe that it is possessed of enormous variety and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We realize that the application of these propositions may mean the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that are repugnant to many persons. We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.

This statement was originally issued in May of 1953 by the Westchester Conference of the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council, which in 1970 consolidated with the American Educational Publishers Institute to become the Association of American Publishers. Adopted June 25, 1953, by the ALA Council and the AAP Freedom to Read Committee; amended January 28, 1972; January 16, 1991; July 12, 2000; June 30, 2004.


Publishers and Organizations

Albert Shanker Institute
American Civil Liberties Union
American Psychological Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Americans United for Separation of Church & State
Association for Rural & Small Libraries
Association of Research Libraries
Association of University Presses
Audio Publishers Association
Baker County Library District
Banned Books Week Coalition
Basic Books Group
Black Caucus of the American Library Association
Black Château Enterprises
Books That Make You
Bosler Memorial Library
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
Campaign for Our Shared Future
Campus Compact
Celadon Books
Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA)
Chronicle Books
Connecticut Library Consortium
Copyright Clearance Center
CRC Press
Defending Rights and Dissent
Dramatists Guild of America
EducateUS: SIECUS In Action
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Emerald Publishing
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
First Book
Flatiron Books
Florida Library Association
Fordham University Press
Free Spirit Publishing

Georgetown University Press
Gotham Ghostwriters
The Gotham Group
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Audio
Hachette Book Group
Hachette Books
Hachette Nashville
Hansen Publishing Group
HarperCollins Publishers
Henry Holt & Co.
Holiday House
Independent Book Publishers Association
Independent Online Booksellers Association
Indiana Black Librarians Network
International Literacy Association
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
Lambda Literary
Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Lerner Publishing Group
Little Free Library
Little, Brown and Company
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
Macmillan Audio
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Macmillan Publishers
Maryland Library Association
Media Coalition Foundation
Media Freedom Foundation
MI Right to Read
Michigan Library Association
Monroe County (NY) Library System
National Association of College Stores (NACS)
National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Council of Teachers of English
Nebraska Library Association
NEJM Group
North Dakota Library Association
Okapi Educational Publishing
Orbit Books

Peachtree Publishing Company
PEN America
Penguin Random House
People For the American Way
PFLAG National
Pixel + Ink
Princeton University Press
Project Censored
Publishers Weekly
R. R. Bowker
Rochester (NY) Public Library
Running Press Books Group
Sacramento Public Library
SAGE Publications
School Library Journal
Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Sisters in Crime
Songwriters Guild of America
Taylor & Francis
Textbook & Academic Authors Association
The BookFest®
The Children's Book Council
The New York Library Association
The St. Martin's Publishing Group
The University of California Press
Tor Publishing Group
Tully Center for Free Speech
United Negro College Fund
Universal Write Publications (UWP)
University of Chicago Press
University Press of Colorado
W.W. Norton and Company
Washington Library Association
We Need Diverse Books
Wolters Kluwer Health
Woodhull Freedom Foundation
Workman Publishing
Writers & Publishers Network


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Warren Alexander
Roger Alix-Gaudreau
Adriana Allegri
Lisa Alther
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Kathy Anderson
Gerald C. Anderson, Sr.
Kathy Andrew
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Echo Heron
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Jean Hey
Patsy Heyman
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Clint Hill
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J.T. Hine
Hilary Hinzmann
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Martha Hodes
Nigel Hollis
N.L. Holmes
Katharine Holstein
Lorri Hopping
Lori Houran
Del Howison
Arthur Hoyle
Debra Hughes
Dean Hughes
Lynne Hugo
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Paul Huson
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Frank Hyman
Michael Hymanson
Robert Inman
Crystal Inman
Cait Irwin
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Roberta Isleib
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Stacy Nathaniel Jackson
Bryan Jackson
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Mila Jaroniec
Georgia Jeffries
George Jehn
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Dinah Johnson
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Ann Jones
Merry Jones
William Bryan Jones
Andrea Jones
Robert Jones Jr.
River Jordan
Sheri T. Joseph
Marianne Joyce
Michael Kahn
Constantine Kaniklidis
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Penelope Karageorge
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Sam Katz
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Dr. Ibram Kendi
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Young Kim
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Tracy Koppel
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Jon Krakauer
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Michael Kurland
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Lisa Lerner
Peter Leschak
Marilyn Lester
David Levithan
Steven Levy
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Shannon Lewis
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Linda Lightfoot
Deborah J. Lightfoot
Marian Lindberg
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Linda Lockwood
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Linda Perlman Fields
Daniel Peters

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James White
Sylvia Whitman
Wallis Wilde-Menozzi
Eric Wilhelm
Erik Martin Willen
Margaret Willey
Ernest Williamson III
J. L. Wilson
Meghan Wilson Duff
Gerald Winter
Elizabeth Winthrop
Kathryn Witt
Rob Wolf
Tobias Wolff
Wayne Wolfson
Hilma Wolitzer
Richard Wolkomir
Ryan Womack
Mandy-Suzanne Wong
Wendy Wong
William Gee Wong
Stephanie Woodard
Marilyn Wooley
Avi Wortis
Aria Wyatt
Susan P. Y.
David R. Yale
Joyce Yarrow
Tabatha Yeatts
Felicity Yost
John Young
Diane Younker
Katayoon Zandvakili
Leslie Zemeckis
Linda Zimmerman
Kathleen Zoll
Larry Zuckerman

Image of a stack of books on a table in a library. Text reads: "On June 25th, 1953 we said that we trust people of this nation to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. 70 Years later, we still trust them to make their own decisions.

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Graphics and sample posts are available in the Freedom to Read Statement toolkit.