School employees and librarians in the United States are increasingly concerned over the new state legislations across the country targeting academic freedom and freedom of information. States that have introduced new restrictive bills include: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. The previously protected parties exempt from obscenity laws, such as teachers, librarians, and other educators, will now be held criminally liable for the reading materials provided to children under these new laws. The penalty varies according to the state and can range from $10,000 to $103,000 fines and 2 ½ to 10 years in prison.
The laws come at time when there is already Republican party pressure to remove books from campuses and libraries, primarily ones concerning issues of race, racism, and LGBTQ+ identities. PEN America reports that conservatives have called for the banning of over 1,600 titles, and want to hold librarians and school employees criminally liable if they fail to remove these banned books from their shelves. We know that school and public libraries are already removing books that grapple with the subjects of sexuality, gender, race, racism, and violence, from their shelves at the direction of school principals or preemptively on their own.
Organizations such as the American Library Association, Authors Guild, PEN America, Penguin Random House are bringing lawsuits to courts challenging the constitutionality of book bans and the legislations that criminalizes the librarians, school employees, and other educators for providing “obscene” books. Most of the new laws do not define what will be considered “obscene” and “harmful to minors”, using vague language which is often subjective. In an effort to combat book banning, some states have started to propose anti-book banning legislation following Illinois, which has been the first state to sign such legislation. Under the new Illinois law, public libraries will only have access to public grants if they adopt the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, which states that materials cannot be removed from public library shelves due to “partisan disapproval.” New Jersey is the latest state to propose similar anti-book ban legislation, following Illinois, New York, and Connecticut.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide unequivocally condemns the censorship of books. and is particularly concerned about the banning of books dealing with gender, sexuality, race, and racism. We at ESW emphatically condemn the move to hold educators and librarians criminally liable for providing books to students and recognizes the right to free speech as fundamental and the censorship of books as an infringement of the First Amendment.
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