Taking a new tack in the ideological battle over which books children should be able to read, Illinois will ban book bans in its public schools and libraries, with Gov. JB Pritzker finalizing the bill he signed into law on Monday first of its kind.
The law, which goes into effect next year, was the Democrat-controlled state’s response to a sharp increase in efforts to ban books across the country, especially in Republican-led states, where lawmakers have made it easier to remove library books that political groups deemed objectionable.
“While some self-righteous governors ban books written by LGBTQ authors, but then claim censorship when the media controls them, we are showing the nation what it really feels like to stand up for freedom,” said Pritzker, a Democrat. at a bill signing event at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago.
The law requires state public libraries to adopt or write their own versions of a library bill of rights such as the of the American Library Associationwhich states that « Materials should not be banned or removed due to partisan or doctrinal disapproval. »
Libraries that fail to comply could lose state funding, according to the bill.
The Pritzker governor appeared to be calling, though not by name, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who has staked his 2024 presidential bid in part on his status as an engine of conservative policies addressing cultural issues.
Governor DeSantis has supported state laws aimed, at least in part, at limiting access to some reading materials in public schools. Books targeted for removal dealt primarily with LGBTQ and social justice themes, with some groups objecting to gender and sexuality materials in books that schoolchildren may read.
Other states, including Georgia and Kentucky, have followed suit with laws that could make it easier to file complaints about specific books and influence libraries or education committees, according to EveryLibrary, a political action committee that advocates raising funding for public libraries and tracks proposed book regulatory laws across the country.
“Libraries aren’t in the business of banning books, but they are becoming places of censorship by groups who often don’t even read books,” Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, said in an interview.
Efforts to censor books doubled in 2022 from a year earlier, according to a report from the library association, which counted 1,269 attempts to remove books and other reading materials.
The report, released in March, said the « vast majority » of materials targeted for takedowns are about or written by people of color or members of the LGBTQ community.
Even librarians found themselves targeted by groups trying to pull materials off the shelves. Many have been « driven out » of their jobs, according to Ms Hall. The association’s fund to support librarians facing job loss, she said, is steadily depleted.
The battle to have the books removed is also taking place in court. Penguin Random House, a publisher, and PEN America, a free speech organization, last month sued a public school district in Florida and accused it of violating the First Amendment by removing headlines about « their disagree with the ideas expressed in those books ».
The signing of the bill on Monday may have opened a new front.
« Across the nation, when this was introduced from Illinois as well, there was a huge wave of conversation and dialogue about how important it is to see governors and to see lawmakers engaged in this conversation, » Ms. Hall said .
A similar bill against the ban on books is making its way through the New Jersey Legislature.