Chris McDonnell: Permission to read

The culture of our society emphasizes freedom of expression, the right to hear and be heard is a personal choice. It is a freedom that is now threatened both sides of the Atlantic.

A few days ago the London Times reported that a school in Miami-Dade county of Florida would no longer be able to use a text from recent history, the poem ‘The hill we climb’ written and read by Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of the current President, Joe Biden. This was as a result of complaint from a parent of two children attending the school, saying that ‘it was not for schools’ and ‘would cause confusion and indoctrinate students’. That neatly frees up the History slot on the Curriculum.

It raises an important question. Who has the right to design the school curriculum? Teachers, parents, elected officials, politicians? What can be excluded and for what reason? The article concludes with this paragraph, “Under the governorship of Ron DeSantis, Florida has been criticized for banning a series of books from the classroom most of which explored themes of race and sexual orientation.” DeSantis has recently declared himself as a Republican candidate for the US Presidency next year.

The cultural climate engendered in a country by the edicts of prominent figures sets the tone of public discourse. It is an important aspect of leadership. It is interesting to remember as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reminded us recently that Richard Nixon regarded the press as the enemy of the people and so now does Donald Trump. How long before a suggestion of tidying up Picasso is seriously considered?

The Church has had its own experience of book censorship which led us into a cul de sac until the Index of Prohibited Books was formally discontinued in June 1966 by Paul IV. Honest debate is the better option for winning hearts and minds than prohibitions and barriers. The 20th Century is littered with the names of many whom it was subsequently recognized had made a great contribution to the development of Christian thought through their writing and teaching.

The attempt to control what is read, to hear what is spoken and to have an open discussion of varied opinions is in fundamental opposition to the values of a democracy. Accepting such restrictions has consequences for society and for the individual. We should never be afraid to challenge accepted opinion for in that way we discover truth.


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One Comment

  1. Seamus Ahearne says:

    Chris. It is so good to see you returning to the site. We missed you. Stay with us. We need your reflections. Seamus

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