WASHINGTON -- Rising grass-roots activism by the religious right and conservative organizations is producing more attempts ban schoolbooks and materials, from self-esteem programs to works by J. D. Salinger and Maya Angelou, a civil liberties group reported yesterday.
An annual survey issued by People for the American Way chronicled nearly 400 attempts nationwide at what it called "censorship," many involving schoolbooks and programs designed to help students cope with such tough topics as sexuality, drugs, racism and violence.
"Censors succeed in 41 percent of the challenges," according to the report, which People for the American Way President Arthur Kropp said "paints a picture of public education under siege."
Conservative groups rejected the criticism. "That 41 percent is not an increase in censorship," said Janet Parshall of Concerned Women for America. "We should be cheering it as greater parental involvement in the schools."
She dismissed self-esteem programs as having no place in a classroom. "We're spending more time making Johnny feel good than teaching him to read," she said.
Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, said her group was encouraging parents to be involved and pushing schools to "stick to the basics . . . reading, writing and arithmetic -- not this phony self-therapy."
The 395 reported cases constituted efforts to ban books, lessons or educational approaches from an entire class, library, school or district, the study said. The number, the highest in the 11-year history of the report, compared with 376 cases in the preceding year.
Maryland tied with Florida for 10th place in state rankings for the number of reported attempts. There were 14 incidents in which Maryland parents or groups made formal protests on the content of books, plays or curriculum. There also was an objection to a "youth risk survey" given to students.
Montgomery County led the state, with nine complaints overall.
Charles County and Frederick County had two incidents each. Harford County and St. Mary's County each had one incident.
More than one-third of the U.S. attacks were directly or indirectly attributed to "right-wing organizations"; 7 percent were described as "left-wing challenges."
Overall, the most frequently raised objection was religious content. Sexual content was second.