When booksellers gathered at the American Booksellers Association convention in 1990, they faced significant censorship threats. Salman Rushdie was still in hiding following the publication of The Satanic Verses; Waldenbooks was challenged by a national boycott organized by the American Family Association in an effort to stop the sale of Playboy; and Michigan booksellers were threatened with 12 censorship bills in the state legislature, including one that imposed a four-year prison sentence and a fine up to $100,000 for a first offense of selling an obscene book.

At a press conference at the convention, the American Booksellers Association announced that it was creating the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) to fight on behalf of the First Amendment rights of booksellers. Twenty years later, while many things have changed, censorship remains a threat. “Rushdie is free, but fear of violence recently led Yale University Press to censor a book about the controversy over the publication of cartoons of Muhammed,” said ABFFE President Chris Finan. “Alaska and Massachusetts have just enacted legislation censoring the Internet, and the FBI still has the power to search the records of any bookstore or library customer in a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of criminal conduct, much less terrorism.”

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