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Book Bans in America

This week, West Virginia proposed a law that raises criminal charges against librarians if they had content deemed obscene in their collection. Violating this proposed law could lead to a felony could lead to a felony, a 25,000 charge and/or up to five years in a correctional facility. 


This is a part of a larger movement to ban books that are deemed explicit to minors. These decisions of whether one is deemed explicit have been decided by parents and governments. The bill’s supporters say it is the right of parents to choose what their child can read. This has been heralded by the group Moms for Liberty, an organization that is against government overreach and believes parents should have a direct hand in their children’s education. Their organization was formed in response to COVID restrictions such as mask requirements and social distancing. This coincided with Zoom classes, parents were able to see the curriculum of their children more directly. Thereby, this discovery led to outrage over topics deemed inappropriate for their children such as Critical Race theory or LGBTQ+ rights. 


Parents apart from Moms For Liberty wanted to have control over what their kids read. From July 2021 to June 2023, 5894 book bans occurred. In the 2022-2023 school year alone, 1,477 instances of individual books were banned and 847 specific titles were banned. Book-banning laws have been enacted or waiting to be approved in 22 states. Texas and Florida have been the leading states in these book bans, utilizing community outreach to pass a series of laws on what some consider inappropriate. 


As for many of these bans, it starts from local opposition. Parents are upset about content featuring sexual, violent or depressing content. Most bans are started by a small group of local parents who oppose a book, bring it to town meetings and call for the book to be challenged. In some states even, if a book goes under review, it is taken off the shelf. 


In Texas, vendors have to follow a rating system to be able to sell their books. The rating system rates books on levels based on how much sexual content is in the book. Work that references or depicts sex will receive a “sexually relevant” tag which means parental permission is required. If the content is deemed more explicit than the prior tag, it will receive a “sexually explicit” tag, be removed from bookshelves and incur a further ban. 


Critics of book bans say these laws are undemocratic and strive to restrict diverse voices. When looking at stats gathered from PEN, 30% of books banned have themes of LGTBQ and 26% relate to People of color, race or a critique of racism. Many critics also point out how whole communities are not in support of these bans, many of these bans come from individuals or a small group of individuals. Their argument fundamentally comes from the idea that one’s opinion should not limit others’ rights. 


Some states have taken a defensive stance against book banning and have even regulated laws against it. For example, Illinois passed a law in June 2023, outlawing book banning in higher and public education. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said of the bill, "Here in Illinois, we don't hide from the truth, we embrace it. Young people shouldn't be kept from learning about the realities of our world; I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome."


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