Each school year as teachers and administrators decide which books are appropriate for their students to read, they may exclude or ban certain books such as The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and Song of Solomon because of their mature themes.
"Freedom of thought requires the freedom to explore issues and questions necessary to education, enlightenment and self-governance," writes Nancy Kranich, a past president of the American Library Association, in an essay on ALA's Web site.
This freedom applies to children and adults, she said. "Those who seek to limit other people's access to ideas they feel are dangerous or repugnant often forget that freedom is what undergirds our democracy," Kranich wrote.
The director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, Judith F. Krug, agrees. "What is intellectually stimulating to one may be irrelevant or even offensive to another," she wrote in an opinion piece in the Aug. 13 Chicago Tribune.
Many books that have been banned, such as The Catcher in the Rye, teach tolerance, self-worth and individuality, Krug wrote.
While some teachers and parents say The Catcher in the Rye is too shocking and lewd for juveniles, others see the J.D. Salinger novel as an insightful and stimulating work with much to offer young students.
In the 1951 novel, which chronicles a young man's coming of age, characters frequently use profanity and several references are made to homosexuality and alcohol use. Teachers and parents continue to object to Salinger's novel, which is No. 10 on the ALA's list of 100 most frequently challenged books in the 1990s.
In Georgia, after hearing complaints from some parents, the Glynn County school board discussed banning The Catcher in the Rye from the high school's curriculum.
From there, the idea expanded, and now the board is considering a comprehensive anti-profanity policy that would ban any books, programs and activities that contain bad words.
But the plan has drawn sharp opposition. The Associated Press reported that about 150 parents, teachers and students crowded into a school board meeting on Aug. 13 to complain.
"Who can judge what is profanity? Who will decide and how will they decide?" Brunswick High School teacher Ingrid Metz asked. "The Bible, Shakespeare and the dictionary all have profanity. Are we going to ban them?"
Board member Pat Ulmer first suggested removing The Catcher in the Rye from school reading lists. Glynn County would be one of the first in Georgia to ban the book outright, civil liberties activists told AP.
The book is taught in 11th-grade American literature classes in Glynn County, but students have the option of choosing another book if they object to it.
"If you are going to build good character in children, you have to have books that reflect good character and good moral values," Ulmer said previously.
She also has said such material conflicts with the state's mandated character education program, which says "profanity will not be used in any instructional program or activity."
Brunswick High English teacher Lori Durham condemned the proposal as censorship that would deprive students of some of the greatest works of literature. The Glynn County Parent Teacher Association also opposes the plan.
"We feel the board should stick to the policy they already have," said Ninette Fenlason, president of the county's PTA Council. "The board is focusing on things that don't need to be fixed," she said. "They should be focusing on things that need to be fixed."
Board members have placed the issue on the Sept. 10 meeting agenda for possible action.
In Oklahoma, To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic Harper Lee novel that explores racial tensions in a small Southern town, has been pulled from the required reading list for freshmen at Muskogee High School.
"It's a great book," Principal Terry Saul said. "It teaches life lessons."
But the book, published in 1960, could make some students uncomfortable because it contains racially charged words and innuendoes that may not be appropriate for young students, Saul said.
"We didn't want to put any kids in an uncomfortable situation," Saul said.
Joann Bell, state director for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said removal of the book from the list is "absolutely ludicrous."
"It's a wonderful piece of literature," she said. "If you want to look for racism, you can find it anywhere, including the Bible. I don't know why people are afraid of knowledge."
In Lee's book, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960, a small-town Alabama attorney named Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.
"It is material that I believe can well be read in high school and what better place to talk about these kinds of issues," said the ALA's Krug in Chicago.
The book issue came up last spring when school officials formed the Freshman Academy, a committee that reviews and questions materials on the required reading list, to decide whether it was suitable for student reading.
Any student who wants to read To Kill a Mockingbird for individual reports or for other reasons is free to do so, Saul said.
In Chicago, the public library system and the mayor are offering enormous support for the book by encouraging every city resident to read Lee's novel as the first selection in a citywide book club called "One Book, One Chicago."
City officials chose To Kill a Mockingbird because it deals with racial and social justice issues that are also pertinent to Chicago, said library commissioner Mary Dempsey in an Aug. 13 Boston Globe article.
Although Lee, who is 75 years old, will not appear at the official event kickoff on Aug. 25, she did fax a note to Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey about the affair.
"When people speak their minds and bring to discussion their own varieties of experience, when they receive respect for their opinions and the good will of their fellows, things change," Lee wrote, according to the Aug. 9 Chicago Tribune. "It is as if life itself takes on a new compelling clarity and good things get done."
For more than 30 years, Lee has declined requests for interviews and has made few public appearances. To Kill a Mockingbird is the author's only published book.
In Kirkland, Wash., teacher Paul Plank thought Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, a book about a young African-American man coming of age in the 1930s, would be a great read for his high school students and a departure from the mostly white male authors they were used to.
School administrators at International Community High School in Kirkland, a mostly white, affluent suburb, didn't like the idea.
They complained of profanity and racial slurs in the book and argued that Morrison's novel, published in 1977, could give students a bad impression of blacks, citing in particular the sexual relationship between the main character, Milkman Dead, and his cousin.
The result has been a debate over what some see as the benefits and risks of exposing students to different cultures and lifestyles.
Song of Solomon won the National Book Critics Circle Award and helped to establish the reputation of its author, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature.
The novel is on the ALA's list of the 100 most controversial books in the country. The book has been challenged in at least four school districts since 1993, according to the association. Two of those districts Richmond County, Ga., and St. Mary's County, Md. restricted access to the book.
In Kirkland, school officials have proposed restricting the book to juniors and seniors in advanced-placement classes.
"We don't have a lot of African-Americans here," said Peter Daniels, spokesman for Karen Bates, superintendent of the Lake Washington School District.
"If this book was the only thing they read and they don't have an understanding of African-American life, it would be very erroneous," Daniels said. Kirkland has an African-American population of 1.4 %.
The school board is to debate the matter in October.
Plank had asked in December to teach Song of Solomon at International Community High School. He said he wanted to expose students to what he considered great writing and introduce them to the work of a black female author.
Some students at International Community High said the superintendent was not giving them enough credit.
In the novel, Milkman searches for his identity by exploring his family's dysfunctional past. Although the book contains some explicit material, students at the high school are "advanced enough to take mature scenes seriously," said Plank. "I don't think we should teach students to go through life with blinders on."
"The book is just a portrayal of reality, and people need to deal with that," said Sarah Feldman, 16.
School Board President Janice Linville would not say how she plans to vote in October, but she said students could learn from the book.
"Students are going to come away with an appreciation of the subtleties of some of the prejudices that went on and the same outrage that crimes weren't solved," Linville said.
In Boston, a novel containing sexual references was eliminated from a remedial summer school class on July 19 after a student's guardian complained that the content was too graphic.
Jennifer Huntington, principal of Newton North High School, said she pulled The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky within hours of receiving the guardian's phone call.
The 1999 book is a series of letters from a shy teen named Charlie to an unnamed friend. As Charlie describes his struggles to find his identity, there are references to bestiality, homosexuality and anal sex.
Neither Huntington nor program head Matthew Keegan had read the book.
''It is extremely, explicitly graphic,'' said Huntington, who called the parents of the six students in the class to advise them of the decision.
Chbosky said he was not surprised by the objections but thinks it's appropriate for high school readers.
''That people have a moral, or religious, or ethical stance, I completely respect that,'' he said. ''The severity (of the objections) surprises me. The book is not advocating the things people find objectionable.''
Mary Clossey, 65, was pleased with how quickly the school responded to her concerns.
''I think they had no other alternative, but I do appreciate it,'' she said. ''But the damage has been done because some of the kids have read the book.''
The novel was assigned in a "Summer Success" program class at Newton, according to a July 20 article in The Boston Globe. The program was started to help students at-risk of failing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam, the Globe reported.
The book drew comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye and received favorable reviews from the Los Angeles Times and Kirkus Reviews.
In South Carolina, the board of the state's largest school district voted on June 12 to remove Killing Mr. Griffith, a book by Lois Duncan about students accidentally killing a teacher, from its class reading lists, but the book can stay on middle and high school library shelves.
Board members also decided that Blood and Chocolate, a novel by Annette Curtis Klause about a teen-age werewolf, should be removed from middle school libraries and can't be taught in middle or high schools. It can stay in high school libraries. The board vote was 5-2 with one abstention, by a member who hadn't read the book.
An advisory panel of Greenville teachers, parents, students and clergy had recommended the books stay in school libraries after complaints about them had been filed by a parent and teachers.
The board voted 6-2 to keep Killing Mr. Griffin on library shelves, but not to allow teachers to use the book in class.
Superintendent Bill Harner had said Killing Mr. Griffin could send the wrong message in an era of high-profile school violence. However, Harner made no recommendations at the June board meeting.
Duncan's book, published in 1987, was the fourth most-challenged book last year and is 64th on the list of the 100 most-challenged books in the 1990s, according to the ALA.
Killing Mr. Griffin is on a supplemental list of young adult novels for eighth-graders, said Scarlette Owens, associate superintendent for student performance. At least one teacher at Mauldin Middle used the book in class.
Board member Marilyn Hendrix, a former principal who voted to keep the book in libraries, said the book "addresses some of the problems and moral issues middle school and high school students deal with on a daily basis."
She said the classroom is "the very best place for this book to be discussed."
But trustee William Herlong called the book "inappropriate as a teaching novel."
In Blood and Chocolate, a 16-year-old girl falls in love with a boy only to lose him when he discovers she's a werewolf.
Klause's book, published in 1997, won the Young Adult Book Award from the South Carolina Association of School Librarians last year. The award propelled the novel onto recommended reading lists at schools across the state.
Teacher Teresa Carillo told the board the book was "low-level filth that corrupts."
"Let's offer rigor instead of raunchy," said Carillo, who called the book "worthless reading material."
Under district policy, parents in Greenville County can opt their children out of any reading assignment of material they consider offensive. Teachers would then give those students alternate assignments.