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Book Bans and Freedom of Speech

It seems incredible that anyone would ever have the audacity to tell somebody else what they can and cannot read. But that is exactly what is happening. According to PEN America “The 2022-23 school year has been marked by an escalation of book bans and censorship in classrooms and school libraries across the United States.” 

There are 32 states with school book bans. Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania lead the way. Additionally, there are about 50 organizations nationally with the loudest book banning voices. Among the loudest is the Mom’s of Liberty who are at the top of the list in terms of numbers of members.

Overwhelmingly, book banners continue to target stories by and about People of Color and LGBTQ+ individuals. PEN America states that 30% of the banned titles are books about race, racism, or feature characters of Color. Meanwhile, 26% of unique titles banned have LGBTQ+ characters or themes. (Pen America) Among books that were banned is the biography of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

So, what is a book ban? A book ban is the removal of any book from the shelves due to parental, community or political pressure regarding its content or style. This includes any political or legislative action or threat of retaliation if the material is not removed.

There are large numbers of folks who do not want books banned at all.  In a survey conducted by the American Library Association, the majority of respondents oppose book bans and support libraries and librarians with confidence. Large majorities of voters (71%) oppose efforts to have books removed from their local public libraries, including majorities of Democrats (75%), Independents (58%), and Republicans (70%).

Librarians are entrusted to review books and make age-appropriate determinations about the contents. Believe it or not, there have been attempts to bring criminal charges against librarians who do not remove books from the shelves. To date, these charges have not gone forward in the courts but the attempt stands as a warning.

Censorship and book banning is determined by a few loud voices that believe they can dictate an acceptable reading list to everybody else.  This belief is insulting to those who don’t feel threatened by free speech.  Of course, parents can determine what is acceptable for their child, but that is where it should stop.

As readers, we often see ourselves reflected in the characters on a page. What is the message when those characters are banned?  Isn’t it comforting to know “I am not the only one who is experiencing this feeling? I am not alone”. Books offer a safe-haven to those who suffer from the isolation of being different. And, when we connect with a character unlike ourselves, fear of the other diminishes and empathy expands. This opportunity should be applauded, not banned. Patricia McCormick, the author of books for young adults, including the novel “Sold’ says “Books are not the problem. They are part of the solution.”

I think a parent can say, well, I don’t want my child to read this. I can respect that. But what gives you the right to bar all children from reading it? To bar all children from seeing a life that imitates theirs? It bars them from seeing someone who looks like them exist on the page and triumph over something.

“I don’t know if folks really realize what they’re doing when they’re doing book bans, and the effect that it has. … Anytime a book that features someone who looks like you is banned, it says that you’re not worthy. You don’t deserve to exist. You’re not as important as other things. Your life is not important. That’s wrong and it’s dangerous.” –Varian Johnson, author of The Parker Inheritance (2 bans), What Were the Negro Leagues (1 ban) and My Life as a Rhombus (1 ban).

I am an avid reader. Like many readers, I don’t like everything I read. There are genres I don’t like and authors I am not interested in, but I would never dream of subjecting anyone else with my opinion. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, but please don’t stomp on free speech.

The 5 Most Banned List 2022-2023 school year

  1. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.
  2. “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George M. Johnson
  3. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
  4. “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez
  5. “Flamer” by Mike Curato

The 5 most classic books banned in 2023

  1. “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult
  2. “Forever” by Judy Blume
  3. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
  4. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
  5. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee