Associated press (re-print) Washington A free-speech advocacy group accused the religious

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Associated press (re-print) Washington A free-speech advocacy group accused the religious right yesterday of waging a national censorship campaign in public schools and said it found 347 attempts last year to censor books, plays and other materials used by school children. The report documented attempts at censorship in 44 states and in every region of the country, "paints a picture of public education under siege," said Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way, a liberal civil liberties group. The group released the findings at a news conference where its officials accused conservative religious organizations of waging an aggressive campaign to ban books, newspaper articles, plays and other material in schools when they consider them contrary to their religious practices or "family values." "The sheer numbers in this report are disturbing," said Deanna Duby, the group's deputy legal director and a former school teacher. The report listed 347 attempts - mostly by parents of school children - to censor books, plays and other material in the 1992-93 school year. The targets ranged from material used in so-called "self-esteem" learning programs, to plays and classics such as "Sleeping Beauty," "Tom Sawyer," and "The Catcher and the Rye." Although complaints usually were raised by individual parents, the report said the religious right appears directly or indirectly to be involved in nearly 40 percent of the cases. About 7 percent were attributed to complaints from parents of liberal ideology and typically involved alleged racism in certain books. "Religious right groups are far and away the single largest political force promoting censorship in the schools," said Matthew Freeman, research director for People for the American Way. Martin Mawyer, president of Christian Action Network, denied that there is any _secret_ national campaign and said the cases cited by the liberal advocacy group reflect concerns by individual parents. "These parents don't want to send their children to schools which promote [sic] homosexuality, attack religious beliefs, use explicit sex education materials and delve into the psyches of their children," said Mawyer. Robert Simonds, who heads Citizens for Excellence in Education, said his cult provides informational material "to parents that don't have the time to do the research" but is not trying to wage a national campaign of censorship. "We're trying to give people the facts, not religious jargon," Simonds said in a telephone interview. Simonds' group was singled out by the censorship report. In nearly half of the cases cited by People for the American Way, the attempts at censorship stemmed from either sexual content or objectionable language. A third of the complaints involved concerns based on religion, often complaints that the book included references to Satanism or Witchcraft, the report said. By comparisons, the group found 346 censorship attempts in schools in the 1991-92 year, 264 in the 1990-91 school year, 244 in the 1989-90 and 172 in the 1988-89. Of the 347 cases, nearly half involved books in school libraries and an additional 31 percent involved books specifically assigned in the classroom. About 11 percent of the total - 37 cases - concerned challenges to so-called "self-esteem" educational programs. CENSORED WORKS Some of the books and plays parents complained of during the 1992-93 school year in libraries and classrooms, according to People for the American Way: "Where's Waldo?" - for depicting a woman's bare breast. "The Catcher and the Rye" - for immorality and profanity. "The Color Purple" - for profanity and sexually explicit language. "Dracula" - for promoting [sic] Satanism. "Lord of the Flies" - for sexual references. "Of Mice and Men" - for profanity. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" - for profanity. "Little House on the Prairie" - for way it depicts "people of color." "Tom Sawyer" - for terms that belittle "people of color." "Sleeping Beauty" - for violence and being frightening.

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