March 5, 1997, Wednesday


Leanne Katz, 65, Director Of Anti-Censorship Coalition

Leanne Katz, who served as executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship since its creation more than 20 years ago, died at her New York home Sunday, after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 65.

As a defender of free speech, Ms. Katz worked with teachers, librarians and authors across the country to fight the banning of books, magazines, movies and art.

Ms. Katz worked on dozens of cases each year in which principals or school boards had removed books from classrooms or libraries because they disapproved of the content. Among the authors whose works Ms. Katz defended -- sometimes repeatedly -- are Judy Blume, Maurice Sendak, Nancy Friday, V. C. Andrews, Katherine Paterson, Ken Follett, Madeleine L'Engle, Chris Durang, Dorothy Allison and Robert Cormier -- in addition to Mark Twain and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Ms. Blume, a popular children's author whose books dealing frankly with adolescent sexuality have frequently been the targets of censorship, said: ''When my books were being banned early on, in the 80's, I had nowhere to go, until I found this remarkable woman, this tiny dynamo who had such passion and energy for fighting censorship. From then on, if I had word from a teacher, a librarian, or a newspaper anywhere in the country that something was being banned, all I had to do was put this person in touch with Leanne, and I knew she would instantly respond and get them through this, let them know they were not alone. She believed in the First Amendment above all.''

Recently, Ms. Blume said, Ms. Katz had been distressed about what seemed to be an increasing tendency not just to remove controversial books from use, but to dismiss the teacher or librarian who chose them.

The coalition Ms. Katz headed was created in 1974, after the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Miller v. California, which broadened the reach of censorship, allowing the banning of any work that lacked ''serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.''

The coalition is an alliance of 45 religious, artistic, educational and civil liberties groups ranging from Actors' Equity to the American Library Association and the National Council of the Churches of Christ, and it began as a project of the American Civil Liberties Union, but soon became a separate entity.

The coalition acted as an advocate against proposed legislation, national or local, that would restrict free speech. Roz Udow, the coalition's director of education and public affairs, said it worked on more than a hundred individual cases a year, most of them involving efforts to ban works because their content is considered sexual, profane -- as is becoming increasingly common -- a reference to Satan.

''There isn't a book in the library that somebody hasn't tried to censor,'' Ms. Udow said. ''There have always been a lot of cases about sexual content, and currently the major topics of concern seem to be homosexuality, witchcraft and the occult.''

Throughout the 1990's, Ms. Katz has been a central figure in the debate over whether pornography harms women. Some feminists, including Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, believe that pornography is inextricably connected to discrimination and violence against women, but Ms. Katz organized other leading feminists to argue that free expression about sexuality is a feminist value and that censorship has harmed women in the past by suppressing information about sexuality and birth control.

Before she began working with the censorship coalition, Ms. Katz was on the national staff of the American Civil Liberties Union, as liaison to the group's affiliates. Ms. Katz served as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Modern Language Association. She taught courses on free expression at Queens College of the City University of New York and the New School of Social Research, and wrote and lectured widely on freedom of expression.

She is survived by her husband, Alvin M. Katz, her sons, Joseph and Jamie, and her sister Sara Blackburn.

A memorial service will be held at a date to be announced.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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