Free speech groups criticize recent pulling of slavery book

NEW YORK (AP) _ Two prominent free-speech organizations are criticizing publisher Scholastic's recent pulling of a children's picture book about slavery and calling it a ``shocking and nearly unprecedented case'' of self-censorship.

New York-based Scholastic Inc. last week halted distribution of ``A Birthday Cake for George Washington'' in response to numerous complaints the book presented a sanitized narrative about slavery.

A joint statement issued Friday by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the PEN American Center says the publisher should have allowed the public to debate the book's merits. They say, ``This outcome is likely to have a chilling effect.''

Scholastic hasn't responded to a request for comment.

Publishers are more likely to withdraw books because of plagiarism or fraud than objections to content, although they have done so before.