Democrats introduce ‘book ban’ resolution amid nationwide censorship movement

Campaigns across the US to remove books from schools and libraries are a ‘direct attack on First Amendment rights,’ congressman says

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 23 September 2022 00:03 BST
Texas banned more books in school libraries than any other state

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Democratic lawmakers in the US House of Representatives and Senate have introduced a resolution to denounce a sweeping campaign to censor and eliminate books and learning materials from libraries and classrooms across the US.

A resolution proposed by US Rep Jamie Raskin and Senator Brian Schatz would call on local governments “to protect the rights of students to learn,” according to a draft first reported by Politico.

The measures come as a growing effort among right-wing groups to censor classroom materials and libraries across the US – mostly involving LGBT+ issues and honest discussions of race and racism – has led to more than 2,500 instances of legislative or policy moves to ban individual books, affecting 1,648 titles altogether, within the last year.

Congressman Raskin, who chairs the House Oversight subcommittee on civil rights and liberties, called the wave of book bans a “direct attack on First Amendment rights and should alarm every American who believes that freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of our democracy.

The resolution invokes the US Supreme Court decision in Board of Education v Pico, which held that First Amendment protections limit schools’ ability to censor materials in a “narrowly partisan or political manner.”

It calls on schools and local governments to allow students “to read a wide array of books reflecting a multitude of viewpoints and perspectives.”

A recently released report from free speech organisation PEN America estimates that at least 40 per cent of the bans proposed between July 2021 and July 2022 are tied to legislation or “political pressure” among state and local officials, impacting at least 32 states.

Those campaigns are connected to at least 50 groups pushing for broad bans on books at the national, state and local level, according to the report.

Among those groups, including dozens of local chapters, 73 per cent – or 262 – started within just the last year.

At least 20 per cent of book bans are directly linked to those groups, though PEN America estimates an additional 30 per cent were likely influenced by them.

A separate report from the American Library Association released last week found 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, with 1,651 titles targeted among them, within the first eight months of 2022.

More than 70 per cent of those attempts targeted multiple titles. The vast majority of censorship efforts in previous years “only sought to remove or restrict a single book,” according to the ALA.

In his remarks to a House committee hearing on book bans and school censorship earlier this year, Congressman Raskin warned that challenges to library and classroom materials mean “tens of thousands of teachers, librarians, and administrators [will] spend hundreds of thousands of hours reviewing these books to implement a regime of censorship.”

“The vast majority of books being targeted for censorship are not mandatory or part of the curriculum for students to read. They are books of choice – students can pull them off the shelves if they want to and check them out. Or they can ignore them entirely,” he said.

Otherwise “normal” curriculum and library selection processes are “completely different from whipping people into a moral panic over the use of this or that word or passage in a book and then demanding its removal from a library or banning from a school,” he added.

“Most books being targeted for censorship are books that introduce ideas about diversity and our common humanity, books that help teach children to recognize and respect the humanity in one another,” according to Mr Raskin. “This of course radically understates the powers of empathy, compassion, and solidarity that all children have. It also suggests that the actual lived experiences of certain people should be suppressed if learning of them would make other people uncomfortable, a farfetched, unworkable, and unjust principle that cuts against the American embrace of free expression.”

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