Censoring the Past

There is a lot of talk today about censorship. Recent art exhibits, funded by tax dollars and promoted by the National Endowment for the Arts, have come under severe attack. Many Americans rightly criticize these exhibits as inappropriate, certainly for viewing, but most assuredly for government support and funding. Museums, government-funded artists, Hollywood activists, homosexual groups, and the government-funded NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) 1 are crying “censorship” over such protests.

Another battle is raging over the selling of pornography in popularly trafficked bookstores. Rev. Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association have targeted Waldenbooks, a subsidiary of K-Mart, for selling pornography. Harry Hoffman, president of Waldenbooks, says that Wildmon and others like him “want to censor and stop the sales of constitutionally protected publications they deem objectionable.” 2

Protests against pornography and government-funded art are not acts of censorship. Censorship is a mandate by the civil government which prohibits the publication, sale, or distribution of material it deems to be politically harmful. As civil libertarian Nat Hentoff describes it, “Legally, censorship in violation of the First Amendment can only take place when an agent or agency of the state — a public school principal, a congressman, a President — suppresses speech.” 3

It is not censorship for a government to refuse to pay for objectionable material. In the case of pornographic “art,” the protestors are only asking that their tax money not be used to fund the offensive material. Rev. Wildmon is not asking the government to prohibit Waldenbooks from selling Playboy and Penthouse; he is only calling on concerned citizens to stop doing business with K-Mart and its subsidiaries. 4 He wants the same freedoms that the pornographers are claiming belong only to them. Wildmon writes: “We don’t want K-Mart, Playboy and Penthouse drawing the line for the rest of us. The First Amendment belongs to all Americans, not just to pornographers.” 5

The Censor Band Wagon

Literature of all types has been scrutinized by numerous groups from different ends of the political and religious spectrum. Those on the political left have denounced classic works like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist as being “anti-semitic.” William Shakespeare’s King Lear has been condemned as “sexist.” Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s coming-of-age classic, has suffered a double blow with denouncements of “racism” and “sexism.” Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have been criticized “because they are about ‘middle-class rabbits.'” 6

In 1988, librarians in Cobb County, Georgia, removed Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys from the library shelves. The librarians cited lack of shelf space as the reason for the exclusion of the popular mystery series. Mary Louis Rheay, director of the Cobb County Library System, tells a different story, saying that “series books are poorly written and do not meet library standards for book selection.” 7 In 1994 the library board in Wellesley, Massachusetts, voted 5 to 1 to keep Playboy on the shelves. The board said the magazine, like all its material, is protected by free speech provisions. “There is something in the library to offend everyone,” librarian Anne Reynolds said. “We cannot be in the position of censoring everything. Those days are gone.” Trustee Carol Gleason, who voted to remove the magazine, said, “If minors cannot buy the magazine in a store, why should they be able to obtain it in the library?” 8

Who Draws the Line?

An ad hoc public school committee supported the removal of books by Dr. James Dobson, a Christian psychologist, from the library of the Early Childhood Family Education Program of the Mankato, Minnesota, school system. They were removed because the staff “disagreed with Dobson’s views on child discipline, which includes an endorsement of spanking, and because of the religious nature of his philosophy.” 9

Donated books are often refused by libraries because of religious content. The Closing of the American Heart, written by Dr. Ronald H. Nash, was donated to the Haggard Library in Plano, Texas, by a group of concerned citizens. Nash is a former professor of religion and philosophy at Western Kentucky University who presently teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He has also served as an advisor to the United States Civil Rights Commission. Why was his book refused? Certainly not because of his academic and professional credentials. Book donations had to pass the library’s evaluation criteria. 10 The Closing of the American Heart did not pass because of its Christian perspective.

Each year People for the American Way (PAW), a liberal political advocacy group, publishes a report on censorship and “book banning.” Most of the books which are brought into question deal with occultic themes, promiscuous sexual content, and advocacy of homosexuality. Most of the protestors are parents who send their children to government controlled (public) schools. PAW considers such parental concern over what children read “attacks on the freedom to learn.” 11 What PAW does not tell its unsuspecting audience is that incidents of so-called censorship are negligible compared to the number of schools and libraries in existence. For example, the most challenged book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, “was challenged only 7 times out of 84,000 public schools and never removed.” In fact, Kristi Harrick, press secretary for the Family Research Council, reports that “none of the most challenged books were censored.” 12

Eric Buehrer, a former public-school teacher and president of Gateways to Better Education in Lake Forest, California, states that “PAW has confused the issues of material selection and censorship. What used to be called discernment is now called censorship.” 13 Why is it called “censorship” when parents apply standards for book selection but called “meeting library standards” when a librarian evaluates a book?

Judgments are constantly made as to what children should read and what books should appear on library shelves. As we’ve seen, librarians appeal to “library standards” when selecting books. There is nothing wrong with having “standards.”

Unfortunately, these “library standards” are neither applied consistently in libraries and schools nor always reported in the same way by the press. 14 It seems that when concerned Christian parents voice objections to the content of books, they are said to be censors. But when books with Christian themes are refused by libraries or when teachers are denied the right to read a Bible silently during a reading period, 15 we learn that the rejection is based upon the religious nature of the literature. Rarely are such actions by libraries and schools said to be “censorship” by even the strongest opponents of book banning.

Will the Real Censors Please Stand Up

It is instructive how one segment of our society screams “censorship” every time its views are questioned, but when Christians claim “censorship” of the facts of history, they are ignored by the guardians of the First Amendment.

Liberal media coverage of world events is just one example of the anti-Christian bias of mainstream contemporary society. Consider journalistic coverage of events in Eastern Europe. Rev. Laszlo Tokes, the Hungarian pastor who sparked the Rumanian Revolution, stated that “Eastern Europe is not just in a political revolution but a religious renaissance.” How many people read in their local newspapers or saw on the evening news that Rev. Tokes believed he had been saved from execution through “divine intervention”? Explicitly Christian themes are regularly excluded from news articles: “References to ‘Jesus,’ the ‘Christian spirit,’ and Czechoslovakia’s role as the ‘spiritual crossroads of Europe’ were omitted from excerpts of President Vaclav Havel’s New Year’s Day address. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek were among the sinful censors.” 16

None of these examples should surprise the informed Christian. The present educational establishment, to cite just one group, has been obscuring the past so that our children have no way of comparing the facts of history with the distorted version promoted by biased secular historians.

Censorship at Work in the Classroom

Public school textbooks are fertile ground for the seeds of willful historical deception. Paul C. Vitz, professor of psychology at New York University, spent months of careful analysis of sixty textbooks used in elementary schools across the country. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Education. The texts were examined in terms of their references to religion, either directly or indirectly. “In grades 1 through 4 these books introduce the child to U.S. society — to family life, community activities, ordinary economic transactions, and some history. None of the books covering grades 1 through 4 contain one word referring to any religious activity in contemporary American life.” 17 Dr. Vitz offers an example of how this translates into the real world of classroom instruction:

Some particular examples of the bias against religion are significant. One social studies book has thirty pages on the Pilgrims, including the first Thanksgiving. But there is not one word (or image) that referred to religion as even a part of the Pilgrims’ life. One mother whose son is in a class using this book wrote me to say that he came home and told her that “Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians.” The mother called the principal of this suburban New York City school to point out that Thanksgiving was when the Pilgrims thanked God. The principal responded by saying “that was her opinion” — the schools could only teach what was in the books! 18

In 1986 school children in Seattle, Washington, were given a large dose of revisionist history in the booklet Teaching about Thanksgiving. The children were told that “the Pilgrims were narrow-minded bigots who survived initially only with the Indian’s help, but turned on them when their help wasn’t needed anymore.” The Pilgrims “had something up their sleeves other than friendship when they invited the Indians to a Thanksgiving feast, and it was the Indians who ended up bringing most of the food, anyway.” 19 The booklet has obvious biases and is filled with historical inaccuracies. For example, supposedly Increase Mather preached a sermon in 1623 where he reportedly “gave special thanks to God for the plague of smallpox which had wiped out the majority of Wampanoag Indians, praising God for destroying ‘chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests for a better growth.'” 20 This sermon could not have been preached by Increase Mather, at least not in 1623, because he was not born until 1639.

The rewriting of history has even reached the pages of the Sunday comics. A story recently appeared about “Squanto and the First Thanksgiving.” As all children know, Squanto was a great help to the Pilgrims. But was Squanto so much of a help that the first Thanksgiving was given in his honor? According to the author of the Squanto column, we learn that “the Pilgrims so appreciated Squanto’s generosity that they had a great feast to show their thanks.” 21 William Bradford, governor of Plymouth and the colony’s first historian, continually makes reference to “the Lord Who never fails,” “God’s blessing,” and “the Providence of God,” in times of both plenty and want. 22 How uncharacteristic it would have been for the Plymouth settlers to ignore thanking God during a time of harvest. Edward Winslow, in his important chronicle of the history of Plymouth, reports the following eyewitness account of the colony’s thanksgiving celebration:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men out fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. 23

Squanto was an example of God’s providential care of the Pilgrims. He taught them how to farm in the New World and led them on trading expeditions. There is no doubt that these early Christian settlers thanked the “Indians” in general and Squanto in particular for their generosity in supplying venison to supplement the Pilgrims’ meager Thanksgiving rations. As the historical record shows, however, thanksgiving was ultimately made to God. “Governor Bradford, with one eye on divine Providence, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to God, and with the other eye on the local political situation, extended an invitation to neighboring Indians to share in the harvest feast. . . . This ‘first Thanksgiving’ was a feast called to suit the needs of the hour, which were to celebrate the harvest, thank the Lord for His goodness, and regale and impress the Indians.” 24

Censorship Through Creative Editing

Dr. Vitz is not the only person to uncover the way public school texts minimize the role that Christianity played in the founding of our nation. Consider how a teacher’s guide for the high school history text Triumph of the American Nation, published in 1986, omits material from the Mayflower Compact without informing the teacher that the document has been edited. Students in discussing the document are left with an incomplete understanding of what motivated these early founders because they do not have all the facts. The Mayflower Compact is depicted solely as a political document with its more striking religious elements deleted. Here is the document as presented by the textbook company. The bold face portions are missing from the textbook version:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic. . . . 25

These brave men and women had more on their minds than political freedom. Missionary zeal and the advancement of the Christian faith were their primary motivations as they risked life and property to carve out a new home in an uncertain wilderness.

The critics of America’s early Christian origins have steadily removed such references from textbooks and have created a tense legal environment that frightens many teachers from even raising evidence contradicting the censored texts. Will a member of the ACLU threaten legal action against a teacher who decides to cite original source material to support a view that differs from the historical perspective of the textbook?

Hollywood History

The entertainment industry has entered the field of creative editing in an animated version of the story of Pocahontas, the Native American woman who pleaded with her father to spare the life of John Smith. Pocahontas later became a Christian and married another colonist, John Rolfe. But this episode will all be deleted from an animated retelling of the story. Kendall Hamilton of Newsweek offers the following report on the newly designed and politically correct Pocahontas:

The film’s P.C. prospects are . . . helped by the exclusion of Pocahontas’s potentially, er, problematic later years, in which she was kidnapped by settlers and, after converting to Christianity, married one of her captors. Male-domination fantasy! Subversion of morally superior indigenous culture! Well, maybe, but [Producer James] Pentecost says such considerations weren’t a factor: “We didn’t really sidestep any of it for any reason other than this was the most direct way to tell the story and the clearest.” Pass the peace pipe. 26

While this might be the official explanation from Disney, my guess is that the studio was pressured by Native Americans to hide Pocahontas’s “mistake” of rejecting her native religion.

William Holmes McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers

A study of the historical record reveals that religion played a major role in the development of the public school curriculum. “Textbooks referred to God without embarrassment, and public schools considered one of their major tasks to be the development of character through the teaching of religion. For example, the New England Primer opened with religious admonitions followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the names of the books of the Bible.” 27

The most widely used textbook series in public schools from 1836 to 1920 were William Holmes McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. More than 120 million Readers were sold during this period. The Readers stressed religion and its relationship to morality and the proper use of knowledge. In an introduction for a reissue of the Fifth Reader, historian Henry Steele Commager writes:

What was the nature of the morality that permeated the Readers? It was deeply religious, and . . . religion then meant a Protestant Christianity. . . . The world of the McGuffeys was a world where no one questioned the truths of the Bible or their relevance to everyday contact. . . . The Readers, therefore, are filled with stories from the Bible, and tributes to its truth and beauty. 28

Competing textbooks of the same era contained varying amounts of biblical material, but McGuffeys contained the greatest amount—”more than three times as much as any other text of the period.” 29 Subsequent editions of the Readers—1857 and 1879—showed a reduction in the amount of material devoted to biblical themes. Even so, the 1879 edition contained the Sermon on the Mount, two selections from the Book of Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, the story of the death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18), and Paul’s speech on the Areopagus (Acts 17). The Bible was still referred to as “‘the Book of God,’ ‘a source of inspiration,’ ‘an important basis for life,’ and was cited in support of particular moral issues.” 30

Antiseptic Texts

Since the nineteenth century, secularists have been gradually chipping away at the historical record, denying the impact Christianity has had on the development of the moral character of the United States. In 1898 Bishop Charles Galloway delivered a series of messages in the Chapel at Emory College in Georgia. In his messages he noted that “books on the making of our nation have been written, and are the texts in our colleges, in which the Christian religion, as a social and civil factor, has only scant or apologetic mention. This is either a fatal oversight or a deliberate purpose, and both alike to be deplored and condemned. A nation ashamed of its ancestry will be despised by its posterity.” 31

The 1980s saw an even greater expurgation of the impact the Christian religion has had on our nation. So much so that even People for the American Way had to acknowledge that religion is often overlooked in history textbooks: “Religion is simply not treated as a significant element in American life—it is not portrayed as an integrated part of the American value system or as something that is important to individual Americans.” 32 A 1994 study of history textbooks commissioned by the federal government and drafted by the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA concluded that religion “was foolishly purged from many recent textbooks.” 33 In 1990, Warren A. Nord of the University of North Carolina wrote:

What cannot be doubted is that our ways of thinking about nature, morality, art, and society were once (and for many people still are) fundamentally religious, and still today in our highly secular world it is difficult even for the non-religious to extricate themselves entirely from the webs of influence and meaning provided by our religious past. . . . To understand history and (historical) literature one must understand a great deal about religion: on this all agree. Consequently, the relative absence of religion from history textbooks is deeply troubling. 34

The removal of the topic of religion from textbooks is not always motivated by a desire to slam Christianity. Textbook publishers fear special interest groups that scrutinize the material for any infraction, whether it be religious, racial, sexual, or ethnic. For example, “the 1990 Houghton Mifflin elementary series first made special efforts to include material (and in state hearings received savage criticism from militant Jews, Muslims, and fundamentalist Christians).” 35 The easiest way to placate these diverse groups is to remove all discussion of the topic. This deletion of material is either outright censorship or else a reluctance to fight ideological wars, but whatever the case, failure to deal factually with the past distorts a student’s historical perspective. This has happened to such an extent that even when religious themes are covered “their treatments are uniformly antiseptic and abstract.” 36

Copyright © 1994 Reproduction rights granted by Gary DeMar and American Vision.