Incidents of classroom censorship increased dramatically over the last school year, with New Right groups successfully pushing to remove such classics as "The Catcher in the Rye," "Of Mice and Men" and "The Diary of Anne Frank" from school library shelves, according to a report by People for the American Way, a liberal lobby group.
But the group's third annual report, released yesterday, said that a 40 percent increase in school censorship last year was not the result of actions just by conservative groups.
Liberals in Berkeley, Calif., for instance, objected to a book deemed "anti-Soviet," while textbook publishers themselves have excised more than 400 lines from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," it said.
The publishers, in letters sent to People for the American Way during preparation of the report, acknowledged systematic removal of portions of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet," which the publishers said contained sexual innuendoes and swearing.
One publisher, McGraw-Hill Book Co. in New York, responded in a letter that its policy was to "cut passages from the text that contain coarse or embarrassing language for ninth-grade students."
Another, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., of Orlando, said it had deleted 300 lines of "Romeo and Juliet" because of "ribald or expressly sexual terminology."
"It's survival of the faithfulest," said Barbara Parker, education policy director for the lobbying group. " Publishers are in the business to make money, and they're only going to publish what sells."
The report specifically blamed the increased censorship on a network of New Right groups allied with Phyllis Schlafly's Illinois-based Eagle Forum. In a telephone interview, Schlafly said that she never has tried to censor books, and accused People for the American Way of "maliciously distorting the issue."
"I'm concerned about parental rights," she said. "They the reporting group represent the view that what goes on in the classrooms is none of the parents' business."
Malcolm Lawrence, president of the Maryland Coalition of Concerned Parents, objected to the report as "a little bit like the boy crying wolf."
"To me, this report indicates a healthy sign that parents around the country are looking at what's being taught in the classrooms," said Lawrence, who also heads a group called Accuracy in Academia, which seeks to weed out leftist "disinformation" on college campuses.
"To call this the work of fundamentalist right-wingers, that's typical name-calling," he said. "The president, Education Secretary William Bennett and the Maryland Coalition are standing behind parental rights."
The American Library Association, however, said that the report did not go far enough in citing cases of censorship.
"We've been documenting this sort of thing for a long, long time, and our indications are very much the same," said Nancy Herman, assistant director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
"It's everything across the board," she said. "It's absolutely amazing. You name it and somebody wants to censor it -- it's really incredible."
People for the American Way's report lists specific incidents of censorship in 46 states. In one case in Virginia, it said, the word "unalienable" was deleted from a textbook version of the Declaration of Independence, which led the state board of education to request a federal investigation of textbook censorship.
In Maryland, the report said, books by Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe were burned at a public bonfire in Bowie at Cornerstone Assembly of God church.