A Roundup of the Latest Book-Banning News
Posted On June 13, 2023
PAGE: 1 2
You’ve seen the reports. You know what’s happening. In 2021, ALA tracked more than 700 book challenges, the most in 2 decades. In 2022, that number nearly doubled. Each day, it seems, brings news of another school or library facing a book ban. Outrageously, the notion of book burning still comes up on occasion.
Last year, I wrote about the only library book ban case ever to reach the U.S. Supreme Court (“‘The Right to Receive Ideas’: Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, 40 Years Later,” Information Today, November/December 2022; see page 2 of this NewsBreak for the text of the article). The case involved five students who in 1977 sued their school board over its decision to ban several books that it considered “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain filthy.” Five years later, in an unsatisfying 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that, while a school board can’t remove books just because it doesn’t like them, students do not necessarily have a First Amendment “right to receive information and ideas.”
In the months since that article, there have, of course, been many developments. Some are encouraging; some are dreadful. Here is a look at a few of the most salient:
- January—Trustees of the Glen Ridge Library in New Jersey voted unanimously to keep six challenged books on the shelves, rejecting a proposed ban on those books.
- February—The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association, filed a lawsuit over a new Missouri statute that makes it a crime for any person “affiliated with a public or private elementary or secondary school in an official capacity” to provide minors with sexually explicit visual material. The statute defines “official capacity” as an “administrator, teacher, librarian, media center personnel, substitute teacher, teacher’s assistant, student teacher, law enforcement officer, school board member, school bus driver, guidance counselor, coach, guest lecturer, guest speaker, or other nonschool employee who is invited to present information to students” (emphasis added). One month later, the Missouri House of Representatives voted to strip all state funding from public libraries.
- March—Daily Salinas, a parent of two students at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Florida, challenged several works (which she later admitted she hadn’t read), including Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, the poem she read at President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. The school responded by moving Gorman’s poem from the elementary school section to the middle school section, an act Gorman equated to a ban.
- March—In the case of Little v. Llano County, a Texas federal court overturned a county book ban. Judge Robert Pitman ruled that officials had illegally “targeted and removed books, including well-regarded, prize-winning books, based on complaints that the books were inappropriate.” He also ordered the county to return 17 books to library shelves and refrain from removing any others while the litigation continued. (Read the judge’s full opinion.) This decision is on hold pending a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- April—North Dakota passed a statute prohibiting “public libraries from maintaining explicit sexual material.” The law requires libraries to “develop a policy and process for reviewing library collections to ensure conformance” with the statute.
- May—Montana passed a statute amending that state’s dissemination of obscene material to minors law to include library officers, directors, trustees, or employees among those who could be charged with the offense. Previously, those individuals were exempt.
- May—Penguin Random House, joined by PEN America and a group of authors, sued the school district of Escambia County, Florida, over the efforts of Vicki Baggett, a high school English teacher who has tried to get more than 100 books banned from local libraries because of “explicit sexual content, graphic language, themes, vulgarity and political pushes.” (Read the complaint filed by the plaintiffs.)
Interested in researching book bans further? Try these excellent resources: