Books Banned, Perspective Lost

Why Book Banning is Against the Public Relations Code of Ethics

Books banned, perspective lost. Book banning in schools and ties to public relations.

Book banning. It is increasingly taking place throughout our nation’s public school districts. Yes, in public schools. Schools where students retain their first amendment rights, including their freedom to access information and ideas. But what does this have to do with public relations?

Public relations professionals are bound to a code of ethics. While practitioners may not place a hand upon an important looking book and swear an oath to this code, it creates a basis for what is right and wrong in our often not black-and-white profession. 

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has a widely accepted code of ethics that includes a section on the “free flow of information.” This section states that, “Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.”

Thus, as a public relations practitioner, we do not protect people from information – we support their right to access information. While this applies to our involvement with whatever organization or client we serve, it is a value that should hold throughout our lives.

Public schools hire professional librarians and educators who are trained in selecting appropriate materials for students of different ages. Yet, parents, board members, and politicians have heavy influence on what children have access to in their public schools. 

Why must we pay attention to the issue of book banning? 

Book banning in public schools and its relation to PRSA Code of Ethics

The history of censorship and book banning is as old as the written word. As explained in the National Geographic article, The history of book bans—and their changing targets—in the U.S., book banning has long been associated with fear of change, controlling the spread of ideas, and maintaining power. It is an indicator in the decline of the freedom of ideas.

Looking at recent frequently banned books gives a clue to what ideas may be considered “frightening” to some individuals today.

According to PEN America, some of the most banned books from public schools in the 2021-2022 academic year include, Gender Queer, The Hate U Give, Looking for Alaska, Thirteen Reasons Why, This Book is Gay, The Kite Runner, and Out of Darkness – to name a few. 

These, among other popularly banned books contain similar themes. They discuss issues of gender and/or sexuality, document experiences of people of color, delve into complex issues of mental health, or contain sexually related content. 

Many people who object to these books believe the content is out of line with their families’ ideals, and they do not want their children to have access to that content. However, the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of book banning in schools, and it suggests that this reasoning does not hold. In Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, the court stated, “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”

While people have the right to their opinions, and parents have the right to influence their children’s education, they cannot control the right to information that other students and families have.

Why do PR professionals have a responsibility to get involved?

All people who believe in the freedom of ideas should care about book banning. However, as PR pros, we have a grasp on how lack of information, framing, and positioning influences how people think. “Banning” certain stories or information just because you do not agree with them goes against our code of ethics. 

So how can you get involved?

Keep up with the news in your local school district, stay informed, and speak out! Share relevant stories and statistics in conversation or on social media, get involved with your PTA or school board, and support the freedom of ideas in our public schools.

As a PR pro, we appreciate the power of the written word. So let’s make sure that people have access to all sorts of ideas and stories. 


For additional information on book banning, read PEN America’s, Banned in the USA, the Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools, National Geographics, The history of book bans—and their changing targets—in the U.S., and GoodGoodGood, Banned Books Week: 18 Ways To Help & Advocate (2023).


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