Both houses of the Democrat-led Illinois General Assembly passed HB 2789 last week, which would prohibit libraries from banning books throughout the state. The bill is set to become the first-ever state law to bar book bans, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, expected to sign.
If Illinois libraries want to receive state funding, the legislation stipulates that these public institutions will have to abide by a “Library Bill of Rights” promising they will not remove books based on “partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
“I’ve laid out a budget agenda that does everything possible to invest in the education of our children,” Pritzker said in a speech posted on Twitter, adding that he looks forward to signing the bill. “And it’s all meaningless if we become a nation that bans books from school libraries about racism suffered by Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, and tells kids that they can’t talk about being gay.”
Illinois’ prohibition on book bans comes as books are being pulled from school and library shelves at a faster pace nationwide in the 2022-23 school year than the year prior.
There were 1,477 cases of individual books banned within the first half of the 2022-23 school year, according to an April report by PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks the issue. That’s an increase from the 1,149 book bans documented in spring 2022.
This year’s bans have been tied to an uptick in state legislation and local initiatives, with red states like Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina seeing the highest concentration of book removals, PEN America said.
Book bans often target titles written by or about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. In the first half of the 2022-23 school year, that trend continued with 30% of those banned books discussing race, racism or featuring characters of color, PEN America found. Additionally, 26% of prohibited titles had LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
Other topics finding their way into book ban lists include portrayals of violence and abuse (44%), discussion of topics on health and wellbeing (38%), and coverage of death and grief (30%), the group said.
Moms For Liberty is one of the organizations that has spearheaded efforts to remove books related to race, gender or sexual orientation. The group’s co-founder, Tiffany Justice, previously told K-12 Dive that Moms for Liberty opposes “pornographic” materials in school texts accessible to children.
The Illinois bill marks a moment of key pushback by Democrats while also highlighting how school curricula continues to grow into a hyper-partisan issue.
Further pushback has emerged at the federal level, with President Joe Biden criticizing book bans in his late April announcement for re-election. “Around the country MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms,” he said before shortly mentioning book bans.
Though Biden has been previously silent publicly on book bans and curriculum censorship efforts targeting schools nationwide, including in his State of the Union speech this year, there’s an indication he will be discussing these issues more on the campaign trail.