Quotations about   censorship

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There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Preface (1891)
Added on 3-Jan-19 | Last updated 3-Jan-19
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Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967)
Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 6, ch. 1 (1793)
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Added on 23-Oct-17 | Last updated 23-Oct-17
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My poems are naughty, but my life is pure.

[Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, poem 4, l. 8
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Alt. trans.: "Wanton is my page; my life is good." [tr. Ker (1919)]

Alt. trans.: "My page indulges in freedoms, but my life is pure." [tr. Bohn (1859)]
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The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) [Majority Opinion]
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Added on 24-Feb-17 | Last updated 24-Feb-17
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One major and fundamental guarantee of protracted freedom is the unfettered right of the man to write as he sees fit, as his conscience indicates, as his mood dictates, as his cause cries out for. The moment you begin to censor the writer — and history bears this out in the ugliest of fashions — so begins a process of decay in the body politic that ultimately leads to disaster. What begins with a blue pencil — for whatever reason — very often ends in a concentration camp.

It has forever been thus: So long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms — all of them — may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech (1975)
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Added on 2-Feb-17 | Last updated 2-Feb-17
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Music is no different from opium. Music affects the human mind in a way that makes people think of nothing but music and sensual matters. […] Music is a treason to the country, a treason to our youth, and we should cut out all this music and replace it with something instructive.

Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) Iranian Shia Muslim religious leader, revolutionary, politician
Ramadan Speech (23 Jul 1979)
Added on 26-Jan-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-17
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Our loyalty is due entirely to the United States. It is due to the President only and exactly to the degree in which he efficiently serves the United States. It is our duty to support him when he serves the United States well. It is our duty to oppose him when he serves it badly. This is true about Mr. Wilson now and it has been true about all our Presidents in the past. It is our duty at all times to tell the truth about the President and about every one else, save in the cases where to tell the truth at the moment would benefit the public enemy.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Kansas City Star (7 May 1918)

Reprinted in "Lincoln and Free Speech," The Great Adventure (1926).
Added on 22-Aug-16 | Last updated 22-Aug-16
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You know that prudery is only the other side of prurience. The words are even on the same page in the dictionary.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
The Gods Themselves, Sec. 3, ch. 12 (1972)
Added on 19-Jul-16 | Last updated 19-Jul-16
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If the newspapers of a country are filled with good news, the jails will be filled with good people.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) American politician, diplomat, sociologist
“Moynihan’s Maxim”

Also referred to as "Moynihan's Law." Quoted in The Illustrated Weekly of India (16-22 Oct 1988).
Added on 21-Jun-16 | Last updated 21-Jun-16
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We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Two Cheers for Democracy, “The Tercentenary of the Areopagitica” (1951)
Added on 7-Jun-16 | Last updated 7-Jun-16
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Thus, if the First Amendment means anything in the field, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community. In other words, literature should not be suppressed merely because it offends the moral code of the censor.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, dissenting opinion (1957)
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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Everybody favors free speech in the slack moments when no axes are being ground.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
New York World (23 Oct 1926)
Added on 17-May-16 | Last updated 17-May-16
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Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the ideas that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny of every kind. In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) US President (1933-1945)
“Message to American Booksellers Association” (23 Apr 1942)
Added on 18-Feb-16 | Last updated 18-Feb-16
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It was a great relief to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold; where putrid motion pictures and gangster films cannot be shown. The new Germany has burned great masses of corrupting books and magazines along with its bonfires of Jewish and communistic libraries.

Other Authors and Sources
John W. Bradbury, National Baptist Watchman-Examiner (13 Sep 1934)

On being a delegate to the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin.
Added on 4-Feb-16 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels, condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are the forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because suspected of heresy? Remember the index expurgatorius, the inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter and the guillotine.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to John Taylor (15 Apr 1814)
Added on 28-Jan-16 | Last updated 28-Jan-16
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You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“Bradbury Still Believes in Heat of ‘Fahrenheit 451,'” interview by Misha Berson, The Seattle Times (12 Mar 1993)
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Added on 21-Jan-16 | Last updated 21-Jan-16
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Whatever may be the immediate gains and losses, the dangers to our safety arising from political suppression are always greater than the dangers to that safety arising from political freedom. Suppression is always foolish. Freedom is always wise. That is the faith, the experimental faith, by which we Americans have undertaken to live. If we, the citizens of today, cannot shake ourselves free from the hysteria which blinds us to that faith, there is little hope for peace and security, either at home or abroad.

Alexander Meiklejohn (1872-1964) Philosopher, university administrator, civil libertarian
Testimony before the Senate Sub-Committee on Constitutional Rights (1955)
Added on 28-Aug-15 | Last updated 28-Aug-15
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Fortune has dealt with me rather too well. I have known little struggle, not much poverty, many generosities. Now and then I have, for my books or myself, been somewhat warmly denounced — there was one good pastor in California who upon reading my Elmer Gantry desired to lead a mob and lynch me, while another holy man in the state of Maine wondered if there was no respectable and righteous way of putting me in jail. And, much harder to endure than any raging condemnation, a certain number of old acquaintances among journalists, what in the galloping American slang we call the “I Knew Him When Club,” have scribbled that since they know me personally, therefore I must be a rather low sort of fellow and certainly no writer. But if I have now and then received such cheering brickbats, still I, who have heaved a good many bricks myself, would be fatuous not to expect a fair number in return.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1930)
Added on 18-Aug-15 | Last updated 18-Aug-15
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Censorship, in my opinion, is a stupid and shallow way of approaching the solution to any problem. Though sometimes necessary, as witness a professional and technical secret that may have a bearing upon the welfare and very safety of this country, we should be very careful in the way we apply it, because in censorship always lurks the very great danger of working to the disadvantage of the American nation.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Associated Press luncheon, New York (24 Apr 1950)
Added on 2-Jul-15 | Last updated 2-Jul-15
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The crime of book purging is that it involves a rejection of the word. For the word is never absolute truth, but only man’s frail and human effort to approach the truth. To reject the word is to reject the human search.

Maxwell "Max" Lerner (1902-1992) American journalist, columnist, educator
“The Vigilantes and the Chain of Fear,” New York Post (24 Jun 1953)

Regarding the McCarthy era book burnings. Reprinted in The Unfinished Country, pt. 4 (1959).
Added on 10-Mar-15 | Last updated 10-Mar-15
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I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states that you can’t be arrested for saying things the government doesn’t like. You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own mind up about something.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neil Gaiman’s Journal, “Why defend freedom of icky speech?” (1 Dec 2008)
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Added on 22-Jan-15 | Last updated 22-Jan-15
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The Law is a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel. It’s a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neil Gaiman’s Journal, “Why defend freedom of icky speech?” (1 Dec 2008)
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Added on 19-Jan-15 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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How important are free speech and satire? Important enough that people will murder others to silence the kind of speech they don’t like.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Twitter (7 Jan 2014)
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Regarding the mass murder at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
Added on 13-Jan-15 | Last updated 13-Jan-15
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I think the most un-American thing you can say is, “You can’t say that.”

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
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Added on 18-Aug-14 | Last updated 18-Aug-14
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I may be arrested, I may be tried and thrown into jail, but I never will be silent.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
“Address to the Jury,” Mother Earth (Jul 1917)
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Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
“A Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston,” speech (9 Dec 1860)
Added on 12-May-14 | Last updated 12-May-14
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If Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Speech to the Officers at Newburgh (15 Mar 1783)
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For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451, “Coda” Afterword (1979 ed.)
Added on 21-Apr-14 | Last updated 21-Apr-14
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Gentlemen, you can never make me believe — no statute can ever convince me, that there is any infinite Being in this universe who hates an honest man. It is impossible to satisfy me that there is any God, or can be any God, who holds in abhorrence a soul that has the courage to express his thought. Neither can the whole world convince me that any man should be punished, either in this world or in the next, for being candid with his fellow-men. If you send men to the penitentiary for speaking their thoughts, for endeavoring to enlighten their fellows, then the penitentiary will become a place of honor, and the victim will step from it — not stained, not disgraced, but clad in robes of glory.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Monty Python’s usual schoolboy humour is here let loose on a period of history appropriately familiar to every schoolboy in the West, and a faith which could be shaken by such good-humoured ribaldry would be a very precarious faith indeed.

Other Authors and Sources
The British Board Of Film Censors, Report on Life of Brian (1979)
Added on 12-May-11 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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Censorship is telling a man he can’t eat steak because a baby can’t chew it.

!–more–>Unsourced in Twain’s writings.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)

Unsourced in Twain's writings.
Added on 28-Jan-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927) [Concur]
Added on 9-Sep-10 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
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I can imagine no greater disservice to the country than to establish a system of censorship that would deny to the people of a free republic like our own their indisputable right to criticize their own public officials. While exercising the great powers of the office I hold, I would regret in a crisis like the one through which we are now passing to lose the benefit of patriotic and intelligent criticism.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Letter to Arthur Brisbane (25 Apr 1917)

Three weeks after the US entered WW I.

Added on 28-Jan-09 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art. Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neil Gaiman’s Journal, “Why defend freedom of icky speech?” (1 Dec 2008 )
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Added on 30-Dec-08 | Last updated 9-Jan-15
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Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.

Alfred Whitney Griswold (1906–1963) American historian, educator
“A Little Learning,” address to students, Phillips Academy, Andover (Spring 1952)

Reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (Nov 1952)
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The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
Schenck v. United States (3 Mar 1919)
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Added on 21-Sep-07 | Last updated 3-May-17
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Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there.

Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987) American dramatist, diplomat, politician
“Problem of Pornography,” McCall’s (Oct 1966)
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Damn all expurgated books; the dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
(Attributed)

Paraphrase of a comment by Whitman to Horace Traubel, in Traubel's memoir With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906), entry dated 9 May 1999: "Damn the expurgated books! I say damn 'em! The dirtiest book in all the world is the expurgated book." This was in discussion about William Rossetti, who had published an bowdlerized version of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. See here for more discussion.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Kansas City Star (7 May 1918)

Reprinted in "Lincoln and Free Speech," The Great Adventure (1926).
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Aug-16
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We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“Remarks on the 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America” (speech), Washington, DC (26 Feb 1962)
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Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend your own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Commencement Speech, Dartmouth College (14 Jun 1953)
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To limit the press is to insult the nation; to prohibit the reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.

Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-1771) French philosopher
A Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education [De l’homme] (1772)
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Murder is a crime. Describing murder is not.
Sex is not a crime. Describing sex is.

Gershon Legman (1917-1999) American writer
Love & Death: A Study in Censorship (1949)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) American lawyer, US Supreme Court Justice (1967-1991)
Stanley v. Georgia 394 U.S. 557 (1969) [Unanimous Opinion]
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We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.

Potter Stewart (1915-1985) US Supreme Court Justice (1959-81)
United States v. Ginzburg, 383 U.S. 463 (1965) [Dissenting]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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