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School removes book from library following complaint about author's atheist background

(PEN Canada/IFEX) - The following is a 23 November 2007 PEN Canada press release:

PEN Canada regrets school board decision to remove book

Toronto November 23, 2007 - PEN Canada is distressed to see an Ontario school board once again removing a book from library shelves on the basis of a single complaint.

The Halton Catholic school board has removed The Golden Compass written by Philip Pullman from its shelves following a complaint from an individual who objected to the fact that the author is a stated atheist.

"Surely one complaint shouldn't be enough to remove a book from school shelves, said PEN Canada's National Affairs chair Christopher Waddell.

"Taking a book off the shelves while an investigation is underway amounts to the board saying the book is guilty until proven innocent. Is that the message the board wants to send to students about due process and how it conducts investigations?"

Assessing the book could take weeks or months, removing it from circulation for that period. While PEN Canada accepts the board's right to conduct that investigation, until it is completed the book should remain on display on the shelves and available to students in libraries.

PEN Canada is also concerned about the threat to freedom of speech contained in a decision to remove even temporarily a book for the stated reason that the author has a different view of religion than the board.

"Libraries are places where students are exposed to many differing and competing views of the world around them. That is the whole basis of and reason for education," said Waddell. "If libraries only contained books that supported and reinforced the views of those who ran the libraries, the institutions wouldn't be worth having."

Earlier this year the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board temporarily removed author David Guterson's award-winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars from school library shelves also on the basis of a single complaint.

A review found nothing wrong with the book and it was returned to shelves. PEN Canada urges the Halton board to return The Golden Compass to its shelves.

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