Next week, October 1-7, is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating literature and the free and open access to information. It feels especially pertinent this year, as so many of us are witnessing a concerted effort to censor books and curricula in classrooms and libraries by authoritarian “parents’ rights” groups like Moms for Liberty.
But you have the power to be the voice of reason and lead (and read!) where you live.
The American Library Association tracks censorship attempts through their Office of Intellectual Freedom, and they have been inundated with bad-faith requests to remove books from shelves. Last year, those requests nearly doubled, reaching the highest number of censorship requests to date.
In fact, according to an investigation from the Washington Post, a majority of all book challenges in the United States in the previous school year came from just 11 people.
We all know that this has nothing to do with protecting children, and everything to do with religious bigotry. White Christian nationalists have been well-funded and well-organized in this fight, sharing resources, talking points, and lists of “objectionable content” across county and state lines. But the types of literature that are continually targeted for these bans are telling.
In Idaho, library employee and activist Josiah Mannion has been on the front lines of the fight against censorship. New members of his library board of trustees have voted to cut public programs, threatened to disaffiliate from the American Library Association, and attempted to wrest control of collections and acquisitions from library directors.
Josiah’s warning is prescient and accurate: “The goals are clear: to turn public institutions into private, religiously-run institutions that favor a whitewashed view of history.”
In Josiah’s community, the board’s new extremist policies have even put local library branches at risk of losing insurance coverage, for fear of incurring lawsuits. But thanks to Mannion and community activists like him, some of the most extreme changes have been staved off, including a motion demanding libraries close on Sundays “for observance of the Sabbath.”
Libraries are just one of the beloved public institutions under attack. We know that book bans have also been accelerating at an alarming rate in schools, including in my home state of South Carolina. But books aren’t the only targets for removal.
SC State Director Dr. Bonnie Cleaveland gave a sobering account of what can happen in districts once extremists take the majority on school boards. Dr. Cleaveland, a professional psychologist, volunteered her time to serve on the Charleston County School Board Health Advisory Committee, which recommends sex education curriculum for the county.
In an unprecedented move this past Monday, the Moms for Liberty-backed majority submitted a slate of 12 committee members for five open Health Advisory seats, effectively dismissing nearly all sitting committee members well before their terms ended. In the same evening, they suspended their superintendent and refused to certify their Chief Academic Officer, with no explanation. “Those of us who were removed had done nothing wrong, nor were we given notice or a reason for our removal,” Bonnie said. “Censorship may start with books, but quickly pivots to eliminating all dissenting opinions.”
So crack open a controversial book for Banned Books Week, and celebrate with us. Then reach out to your local school and library boards, and let them know you unequivocally reject any attempts to censor or remove materials that have been curated by experienced librarians and teachers.
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