With Banned Books Weeks in full swing, federal lawmakers this week introduced a forceful bicameral resolution condemning the wave of book bans and educational gag orders sweeping the country as a "profound attacks on books and freedom of expression in the United States."
The September 22 resolution was introduced in the House by Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Democrat from Maryland who is chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and in the senate by Senator Brian Schatz, the Democrat from Hawaii. Earlier this year, the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held two hearings (which were co-chaired by Raskin) that explored the surging efforts across the country to ban books from schools and public libraries based on ideological motivations.
“The wave of book bans that has swept across our country in recent years is 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,” Raskin said in a release announcing the resolution. “The efforts to remove books from schools and public libraries simply because they introduce ideas about diversity or challenge students to think beyond their own lived experience is not only anti-democratic but also a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. During this Banned Books Week, we must call attention to these threats to freedom of expression, reaffirm our commitment to protect First Amendment rights, and, most importantly, read banned books.”
The text of the seven-page Banned Books Week resolution acknowledges the alarming spike in book bans and educational gag orders over the last two years, which have been primarily aimed at books concerning race and the LGBTQ community. It calls denying access to books and literature an “inherently illiberal and anti-democratic tactic used by authoritarian regimes against their people.”
The resolution seeks to recognize the “alarming threats to freedom of expression” sweeping the country and reiterate “the United States’ commitment to supporting writers’ freedom of expression.” It calls for “local governments and educational institutions” to “protect the rights of students to learn and the ability of educators and librarians to teach students by way of providing students with the opportunity to read a wide array of books reflecting a multitude of viewpoints and perspectives.”
The resolution comes as ALA officials last week reported 681 documented attempts to ban or restrict library resources in public libraries, schools, and universities through the first eight months of 2022—on pace to shatter the 729 challenges ALA tracked in 2021—and a PEN America report, which found more than 2,500 book bans were issued in some 140 school districts in 32 states during the 2021-22 school year.
“Across the country, librarians and educators are on the front lines, facing unprecedented attacks simply for helping Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, President of the American Library Association. “We are proud to stand with Congressman Raskin in defense of Americans’ freedom to read.”
“Book bans are a blatant affront to free expression, the lifeblood of our democracy,” added Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs. “Amid brazen trends of censorship targeting our nation’s classrooms, PEN America lauds Congressman Raskin’s resolution, which is an incisive reaffirmation of First Amendment principles.”
The measure is also supported by numerous other organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, Campaign for Our Shared Future, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, EveryLibrary, Florida Freedom to Read Project, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, National Education Association, National Book Foundation, Banned Books Week Coalition, Red Wine and Blue Education Fund, Protect Diversity, and Stand for Children.