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The Universal Right to Free Expression, An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
CHAPTER 4: Library
COMPUTER ID: LS-18
Title: The Universal Right to Free Expression,
An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
Effective Date: 11-24-86
Authorized By: Library Board of Trustees
Date of Last Review: 7-2013
Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the foundation for self-
government. Freedom of expression encompasses the freedoms of speech, press,
religion, assembly, and association, and the corollary right to receive information.
The American Library Association endorses this principle, which is also set forth in the
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly. The Preamble of this document states that ". . . recognition of the
inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family
is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. . ." and ". . . the advent of a
world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from
fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. . . ."
Article 18 of this document states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right
includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in
teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
Article 19 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart
information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
Article 20 states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
ITEM NUMBER: 4.18 b
We affirm our belief that these are inalienable rights of every person, regardless of origin,
age, background, or views. We embody our professional commitment to these principles in
the LIBRARY BILL OF RIGHTS and CODE OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS, as adopted by
the American Library Association.
We maintain that these are universal principles and should be applied by libraries and
librarians throughout the world. The American Library Association's policy on International
Relations reflects these objectives: ". . . to encourage the exchange, dissemination, and
access to information and the unrestricted flow of library materials in all formats throughout
We know that censorship, ignorance, and limitations on the free flow of information are the
tools of tyranny and oppression. We believe that ideas and information topple the walls of
hate and fear and build bridges of cooperation and understanding far more effectively than
weapons and armies.
The American Library Association is unswerving in its commitment to human rights and
intellectual freedom; the two are inseparably linked and inextricably entwined. Freedom of
opinion and expression is not derived from or dependent on any form of government or
political power. This right is inherent in every individual. It cannot be surrendered, nor can
it be denied. True justice comes from the exercise of this right.
We recognize the power of information and ideas to inspire justice, to restore freedom and
dignity to the oppressed, and to change the hearts and minds of the oppressors.
Courageous men and women, in difficult and dangerous circumstances throughout human
history, have demonstrated that freedom lives in the human heart and cries out for justice
even in the face of threats, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, exile, and death. We draw
inspiration from their example. They challenge us to remain steadfast in our most basic
professional responsibility to promote and defend the right of free expression.
There is no good censorship. Any effort to restrict free expression and the free flow of
information aids the oppressor. Fighting oppression with censorship is self-defeating.
Threats to the freedom of expression of any person anywhere are threats to the freedom of
all people everywhere. Violations of human rights and the right of free expression have
been recorded in virtually every country and society across the globe.
In response to these violations, we affirm these principles:
* The American Library Association opposes any use of governmental
prerogative that leads to the intimidation of individuals which prevents them
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from exercising their rights to hold opinions without interference, and to seek,
receive, and impart information and ideas. We urge libraries and librarians
everywhere to resist such abuse of governmental power, and to support
those against whom such governmental power has been employed.
* The American Library Association condemns any governmental effort to
involve libraries and librarians in restrictions on the right of any individual to
hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart
information and ideas. Such restrictions pervert the function of the library
and violate the professional responsibilities of librarians.
* The American Library Association rejects censorship in any form. Any action
which denies the inalienable human rights of individuals only damages the
will to resist oppression, strengthens the hand of the oppressor, and
undermines the cause of justice.
* The American Library Association will not abrogate these principles. We
believe that censorship corrupts the cause of justice, and contributes to the
demise of freedom.
Adopted by the ALA Council, January 16, 1991
- Marathon County Public Library
300 North First Street Wausau WI 54403 USA
Account Status: 715-261-7209 (24/7)