Keep Your Laws off . . . My Library?

How will the new censorship laws affect your library's collection?

Censorship-related bills are rampant throughout the country.

Do you know that at least half of all U.S. states have at least one censorship bill either already passed or awaiting that event? Some states have none, several a few, and others in abundance. For example, Texas has sixteen, twice as many as South Carolina, the next highest. 

EveryLibrary has identified several “bills of concern” in 2023. One is a Republican-sponsored Maine bill that “eliminates an exception to the prohibition on the dissemination of obscene matter to minors for educational purposes in public schools.” Another, in Texas, relates to “content ratings for books and other written materials used in public schools.” And one in West Virginia seeks to “prohibit drag shows from being performed in front of minors and to prohibit drag shows in schools and libraries.”

For more information, check out EveryLibrary’s map and listing of pertinent “legislation of concern.” Unfortunately, if most of these bills pass, we might be denied certain freedoms and fundamental rights.

What Does “Harmful to Minors” Mean in 2023?

While reviewing the list, we noted repeated words and phrases, such as “obscene” or “obscenity,” “harmful” or “harmful to minors,” “library,” “libraries,” and “librarian,” and various derivations of “school” and “parent.”

You might think discussing this vocabulary and other supposedly “inappropriate” content would be a private matter. But this wording is increasingly under the watchful eye of an “influential constellation of conservative groups” — based primarily in red states. According to New York Times journalists Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter:

The change was pushed by three new school board members, elected in May with support from Patriot Mobile, a self-described Christian cellphone carrier. Through its political action committee, Patriot Mobile poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas school board races to promote candidates with conservative views on race, gender, and sexuality.

Add to this the ability to choose which books children can access at school, and you’ll witness a fair amount of outrage.

Send an email to your Representatives to show your support for libraries!

Censorship Is Unconstitutional. . . .

Have you heard of a book sanctuary? Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, has. They collect and protect endangered books by making them publicly accessible, hosting book talks and other events, holding conversations about diverse characters and stories, and educating others about book banning and burning history. CEO Alice Knapp says this has always been part of their mission, but this work is essential in this era of rising book censorship and attacks on freedom of speech.

Other individuals and groups opposing book restrictions say crafting a national response is difficult since policies are established locally. But now there’s pushback. ACLU First Amendment litigator Emerson Sykes said the restrictions “infringe on students’ access to various materials.” Like other advocacy groups, the ACLU filed a federal civil rights complaint against Texas’s Keller Independent School District, arguing that banning books about gender fluidity creates “a pervasively hostile atmosphere for LGBTQ+ students.”

Some Texas librarians formed FReadom Fighters, an organization that guides librarians in handling book challenges. And Florida parents who oppose book banning in that state created the Freedom to Read Project, which urges its members to attend board meetings. It also tracks the work of groups like the Florida Citizens Alliance.

Have Some States Forgotten?

Bills moving through statehouses in 2023 differ from state to state. For instance, an Oklahoma bill restricts entire book genres from being taught or even just held by school libraries. And in Florida, one bill would allow parents to join the committees selecting instructional materials for entire school districts.

Senate Bill 5, filed by Republican Sen. Jason Howell of Murray, KY, would mandate that districts create processes for parents to initiate bans on certain books, materials, programs, and school events. These would start with the principal and then go to the local board of education, if necessary. As Howell remarks, parents must “have a voice when those items conflict with their families’ values and beliefs.”

In February 2023, an Idaho politician proposed legislation empowering parents to sue the state’s schools and libraries if those institutions exposed minors to any material a parent said was “harmful.” The bill mirrors a current Idaho law prohibiting exposure of children under eighteen to “harmful” material that features “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” or if it’s lewd or “patently offensive to prevailing standards” (for adults).

On the last day of February 2023, a bill was passed by the Indiana Senate with the goal of taking “bad books” off the shelves of K-12 school libraries. Apparently, some materials allegedly found in school libraries were said to be “pornographic, horrible, vile, and disgusting.” The bill was intended to provide a path for parents to request the removal of supposedly “inappropriate” materials.

Like other book banning bills, this one passed by a large margin. It’s meant to apply only to school libraries and establishes a procedure school officials must follow to handle parent book complaints.

Sign the petition to fight book bans!

“I’ll Get You, My Pretty” and Your Little Book, Too

In early February 2023, the intrepid Canadian poet and fiction writer Margaret Atwood published an article about a school board having “removed her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, from the shelves of the high school library.” The book portrays a highly restrictive dystopian future. Did they even consider the uproar that would create? Did they think it was anti-Christian? Did they even read it or watch the television series?

First, Atwood says, “Christianity is now such a broad term that it means very little.” Second, she speculates on who gets a say in the future of religious books, like The Bible, with all the sex and violence it portrays. Finally, she asks:

Should parents have a say in what their kids are taught in public schools? Certainly: a democratic vote on the matter. Should young people — high school juniors and seniors, for starters — also have a say? Why not? In many states, if they’re over sixteen, they can be married (with parental approval); if of reproductive age, which might be ten, they can give birth, and may be forced to. So why should they, too, not be allowed an opinion?

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