WASHINGTON -- Attempts to censor public school texts and other educational materials surged by 50 percent across the United States last year to a total of 376 incidents, according to a survey released yesterday by People for the American Way.
The self-styled "people's lobby," which espouses constitutional liberties, reported that Florida led the school censorship efforts with 34. California and Texas each had 27.
Arthur J. Kropp, president of the organization, said that more than one-fifth of all incidents involving public school systems were "the handiwork of extremist conservative groups or individuals," including proponents of the "religious right" such as television evangelist Pat Robertson.
At Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va., a spokesman said that Mr. Robertson had not seen the report and would have no immediate comment.
"Censorship is exploding in our public schools," Mr. Kropp told a news briefing. "The 1991-92 school year was far and away the worst year on record. The reason is simple: There is no longer any stigma attached to being a censor or to engaging in censorship."
The report said that most incidents involved demands that library or classroom materials be removed or restricted for all students, and that such efforts were successful in 41 percent of the cases.
The most frequently challenged book was John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," primarily because of its use of profanity, the study found. Other books challenged included "Catcher in the Rye," "The Color Purple," "Tom Sawyer," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Grapes of Wrath" and "Slaughterhouse Five," according to the report.
Mr. Kropp said that other censorship efforts were aimed at removing sex-education or AIDS-related materials. In Meridian, Idaho, for example, the report said that a group successfully barred a nurse's proposed presentation on the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS to a middle-school class after basketball star Magic Johnson's announcement that he was HIV-positive.
In Dos Palos, Calif., according to the study, a local group ran a campaign to remove the Quest self-esteem and drug-abuse prevention program on grounds that it taught secular humanism while "putting people before God." The school board voted to retain the program.
Mr. Kropp said that the study shows that most efforts were not supported by a majority of parents or communities, but simply reflected "the views of the few, or the one or two, individuals who are determined at all cost to impose their demands on the many."
Beverly LaHaye, president of Concerned Women for America, which describes itself as a pro-family organization representing 600,000 people, called Mr. Kropp's report "an hysterical attempt to intimidate parents."
Gary L. Bauer, president of Family Research Council, a self-described pro-family lobbying and educational group, charged that People for the American Way "wants to use the loaded term censorship to disenfranchise parents."
Mr. Bauer asked, "Are parents to have no voice at all in selecting the materials their children will use in school? Whether you've got censorship or merely democracy at work depends a lot on what ax you're grinding."