Arizona’s book ban and international law

All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.

– From William Shakespeare’s banned play, “The Tempest”

Arizona’s draconian anti-Latino laws are in the news again with the disclosure of a book ban in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) that includes William Shakespeare’s classic The Tempest, which since the 1950s has been used in school curriculums on postcolonial theory.

The list of removed books also includes Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, a textbook described as ‘resources for teaching about the impact of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas;’ Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian academic Paolo Freire; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña; Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, by Elizabeth Martinez and Critical Race Theory, a textbook by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.

According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.” In offering a rationale for the ban, Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal has said that “In TUSD Mexican American Studies courses, a troubling, common theme arose time and time again in course and instructional materials, books and lesson plans: Latino minorities have been and continue to be oppressed by a Caucasian majority.”

Huppenthal, declaring Tucson out of compliance with a state law criminalizing the teaching of ethnic studies, on Jan. 6 ordered that 10 percent of the budget for TUSD be withheld until the school district eradicates its Mexican American Studies program. The removal of subversive books such as The Tempest was intended to bring TUSD in compliance with Arizona law.

But is Arizona law in compliance with international law?

By banning books written from a minority perspective simply because they offer a version of history in which “Latino minorities have been … oppressed by a Caucasian majority,” the state of Arizona may find itself in violation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which deals with the rights of ethnic minorities:

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.

In a debate on Democracy Now, however, Superintendent Huppenthal seems to be more concerned with the “Marxian” analysis that might be included in some of the books than with their ethnic or racial perspectives.

“The designers of the class,” he said,

laid this all out in a journal article. And they explicitly said in the journal article that they were going to racemize—racemize the classes. And in racemizing the classes, there is a philosopher in South America, controversial philosopher, because—it’s strictly right in his books—he uses a Marxist structure to his thinking and his philosophy, that—and Marx, of course, said that the entire history of mankind was a struggle between the classes.

So the designers of the Mexican American Studies classes explicitly say in their journal articles that they’re going to construct Mexican American Studies around this Marxian framework with a predominantly ethnic underclass, the oppressed, being—filling out that Marxian model and a predominantly Caucasian class filling out the role of the oppressor. It really is so simplistic, but it was replete through the entire article. And a lot of things, very unhealthy.

So, according to this public official, it is legitimate to ban educational materials simply because they might include views that are outside the mainstream of political culture – in this case, class-based Marxist analysis.

However, Article 19 of the ICCPR deals specifically with the freedom of information and opinion, expressly codifying “the right to freely seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds”:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

So, while the Tucson school district engages in a 21st century book burning to bring itself into compliance with an Arizona state law (under threat of being defunded), it is fairly clear that the state of Arizona itself is out of compliance with the ICCPR, a legally binding treaty ratified by the United States in 1992.

To sign a petition calling on the school board to reverse the decision to ban the books and reinstate the Mexican American Studies program, click here.

About The Compliance Campaign

Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: Facebook: Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at]

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