On Censorship...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

--The First Amendment
Post Foetry has not been censored; perhaps a cloak of silence has surrounded us, and, perhaps, we have even been pretty much ignored by the literary establishment, but we still enjoy the right to establish a presence on the internet.

At the moment, I have little reason to cry "censorship!"; Post Foetry (and certainly Foetry before us) has a voice on the internet.

Conversely, readers have the right to ignore us; we can't force people to read this site, nor would we want to.

After I launched the Foet Laureate web page, no government wonk called me up in the middle of the night and demanded that I take down the page; there have been no FBI threats, nor have I spent time in jail because of my web page.

I can call George W. Bush a total moron and not be arrested; even in these difficult Republican times U.S. citizens are still afforded certain basic freedoms (well, most of the time).

That's the way freedom of expression should and, for the most part, does work.

However, if an organization, even a non-profit, refuses to publish some one's creative work and/or opinions, that is not censorship. To publish or not to publish is at the discretion of an editor or an editorial board, a decision that is often based on board sensibilities and, yes, taste.

Whether we like it or not, even non-profit publishers have the right to decide editorial policy, even if they accept tax money.

Foetry went after private and university publishers when Foet Presses decided to take money from contest entrants for the purpose of awarding prizes to their friends (and not even reading manuscripts of entrants not in the inner circle), not because the publications reject writers' work, a fact of life in this field, or even though it has long been an open secret that poets and writers often set up cloaked vanity presses for the purpose of publishing each others' work. We may not like this, but it's not illegal to set up vanity presses: an important distinction well worth keeping in mind.

When organizations, even non-profits, take money on false pretenses, then that meets the criminality test, but simply rejecting some one's work is not a criminal offense, nor is it censorship.

Almost any entity can be become a non-profit, although not all non-profits are awarded government funding, another fact of life.

Being a dissident of any kind tends to place one in the margins, so we have to work harder at being heard, and, sometimes, we suffer consequences for speaking out against the majority--for example, a wall of silence.

Working harder does not necessarily mean ranting and raging, but quietly creating an enduring presence and agitating when it's truly warranted. A loud voice is simply a loud voice, which simply becomes ineffective after a time. Teddy Roosevelt said it best, and Martin Luther King lived it: "Speak softly, but carry a big stick."

Recently, I was cyberslapped on a domaining board for "self-promoting." I didn't think I had, but that was beside the point. It wasn't my board, so I swallowed my anger and moved on, understanding that I had been a guest in someone else's house, and I had misbehaved, at least in the eyes of the owner.

But it wasn't censorship.

  • Censorship would be having my blog erased, against my will, by the government.
  • Censorship would entail my being arrested because I called our president a moron.
  • Censorship would involve my being jailed for protesting the war in a public place.
(On private property, it's called "trespassing.")

However, if Blogger/Google (owner of blogspot) decided to remove my blog, I would hate them forever, but their act probably wouldn't meet the censorship test, although it might be considered discriminatory, especially if a similar blog were allowed to remain.

My point: I will not take a non-governmental organization, such as The American Academy of Poets, to task, just because it rejects some one's creative work and/or opinions. Life's too short, and I'd rather save my energies for the battles worth waging.

Now if Congress or any other governmental agency decided that Post Foetry, The American Dissident, or even the most hated of all white supremacist groups (which I will not name here) could not establish a cyber and public presence, then that would be a battle worth fighting because that would be a clear case of censorship, which would violate the First Amendment, and, ultimately, such egregious censorship affects all of us.


Jennifer Semple Siegel

Added August 30, 2007: This post is a response to G. Tod Slone, who believes that The Academy of American Poets engages in public-funded censorship by silencing unpopular viewpoints. The American Dissident is edited and published by Mr. Slone.