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The National Organization for Decent Literature: A Phase in American Catholic Censorship

Thomas F. O'Connor
The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy
Vol. 65, No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 386-414
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309066
Page Count: 29
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Abstract

From the late 1930s through the 1960s, a period of considerable social change, the National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL) was to printed materials what the better-known Legion of Decency was to motion pictures. It was one of the most powerful censorship groups in the United States. Founded and sponsored by the American Catholic bishops and led mainly by priests, NODL sought to restrict access by youth to magazines and later comic books and paper-bound books that were offensive according to the NODL Code. The organization issued lists of disapproved publications, and its volunteer members, most of whom were Catholic, canvassed local stores to put pressure on dealers to remove such publications from sale. The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics of NODL accused the organization of using coercive tactics, a charge that was true in some places in its more zealous early years. Because NODL engaged in nonlibrary censorship, the American Library Association did not actively oppose it. The history of NODL must be viewed in the context of both the evolving legal definition of obscenity in the United States during that period and also the changes in the censorship practices of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.

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