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Explaining Book Bans in the United States

Book bans have become increasingly prominent in the United States in the past two years. The concept of book bans dates all the way back to 1637, when a man by the name of Thomas Morton published a book titled New English Canaan, a criticism of Puritan culture. The Puritan government at the time wholly disapproved and banned the book.

The number of book bans has exponentially increased over the past two years. The American Library Association (ALA) noted over 2,500 titles that were put into question for censorship and removal, a jump from approximately 1,900 titles in 2021. The ALA report states that "the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.” Moreover, their data states 58% of the book challenges were charged against school materials, such as books in the classroom or libraries, and 41% in public libraries.

Predominantly, book bans result from legislation or a united movement designed to pass a bill that would curtail certain subjects or topics. EveryLibrary, an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting libraries, is currently documenting close to 150 bills related to educational or personal reading materials in 35 states.

When examining legislation, a common theme is the safety and mental wellbeing of minors. One such example hit a judicial block was Arkansas Act 372. The title of the act notes, "an act to amend the law concerning libraries and obscene materials made available to minors.” A recent request was made in Florida by school officials to remove any and all books with LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, citing Florida legislation that topics surrounding gender and sexuality should not be taught in schools but rather should be up to the discretion of the parents and household.

Wide backlash has resulted across the nation. Florida Freedom to Read, a project promoting free and fair access to educational materials, stated, "Removing all representation of LGBTQ+ people in literature goes against our very principles of living in a free and just, pluralistic society.”

The crux of the issue comes down to Constitutional debates. Do these bans violate the free speech clause in the Bill of Rights? Or do state officials have the ability to regulate information if they believe it will protect adolescents?

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