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Ever since man developed the ability to put words on paper, there have been those who seek to ban certain ideas from the printed page.

That's because the written word has power. It can change lives, change countries, change history.

For some that translates to freedom, to inspiration. For others it creates fear — fear of upsetting the status quo, fear of challenging longstanding and cherished beliefs.

We see books banned and burned in other countries — totalitarian regimes, for example — and we are quick to condemn. We see ourselves as people who cherish free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

But the fact is that books are regularly challenged and banned in this country and have been for centuries.

In some cases the folks objecting to certain books are decent people. They think they are doing good, even doing God's will.

But in the end they defeat themselves.

Libraries, schools and bookstores across the country have felt pressure from government agencies, parents, civic and religious groups, and other concerned citizens to remove books from their shelves.

Sometimes they cave. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they are helped by Americans more concerned about freedom than the perceived dangers a work presents.

These battles were more common in the last century. But they still happen today.

The most common reasons books are challenged in the U.S. are because they contain sexual content or strong language. Other reasons include negative racial and ethnic portrayals, unpopular political positions, violent content and views that questions religious convictions.

According to the American Library Association, Among the 100 books most frequently banned or challenged in this country are classics such as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, "The Catcher In the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "Native Son" by Richard Wright, "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut.

More recently published targets include the "Harry Potter" and "Goosebump" series that focus on supernatural events, gay and transgender-related works such as "Beyond Magenta" and "George" and Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," which has been labeled vulgar and profane.

This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been challenged and removed from libraries, schools and bookstores over the years.

This is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. It began Sunday and continue through Saturday. Organizers encourage Americans to fight censorship and celebrate the written word.

Those who value the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas should recognize that there are others who do not and take a stand when books are challenged. That's ensures the folks who would ban books can never win.

That's because books can live forever. Book banners definitely do not. All of the works that have been challenged over the years are still with us. And, with vigilance, they always will be.

Everyone is free to decide what to read and what not to read. What books are allowed in their own homes. That's fine.

But no one should be able to tell another what they can or cannot read.

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