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Book-Banning War Heads to Courts - Librarian Freedoms on the Line

By Jake Beardslee · August 7, 2023

Conservatives are pushing book bans targeting race, gender, and LGBTQ issues in public schools and libraries. Advocates warn of threats to free speech.  John Ramspott/Wikimedia

Conservatives in several U.S. states have launched efforts to ban certain books from public school and library shelves, taking particular aim at materials related to race, gender, and LGBTQ issues. Advocates contend these campaigns against so-called “woke” ideas pose serious dangers to free expression.

Skye Perryman, president of the non-partisan policy group, Democracy Forward, told The Guardian, “In Arkansas, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law that would have done a number of things, including creating the potential of criminal liability for librarians.”

The law, Act 372, would deem it a criminal offense for librarians and booksellers to provide minors with any materials considered “harmful” by the authorities. Those found in violation could face up to one year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the Arkansas law for now, calling it a violation of First Amendment rights. The state, however, plans to appeal. Opponents, including the ACLU, have vowed to fight the new restrictions until they are overturned.

Perryman contends these types of book bans are “part of a national effort from anti-democratic forces, movements, and people that do not represent the vast majority of the American people.” She added that far-right groups have been “strategic about trying to organize” campaigns under the guise of parental concern in order to roll back progressive reforms.

Perryman said the book-banning effort follows “a similar playbook” to the one the right used to roll back abortion rights.

Light Wave commentary

The conservative push to ban books in schools and libraries should concern anyone who cares about free expression and open access to information. While proponents may claim they are simply trying to protect children, these efforts can set a dangerous precedent. Restricting what books are available based on political or ideological objections erodes the bedrock principles of intellectual freedom and equal access upon which libraries and public education - and our society at large - function.