US state to stop book bans in battle against censorship

JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois - Scott Olson/Getty Images
JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois - Scott Olson/Getty Images

Illinois is set to become the first state to legislate against book bans in an effort to fight the censorship of texts on gender and sexuality across the United States.

Governor JB Pritzker is expected to sign the bill, which blocks funding for public schools and libraries that remove books, this week after it passed the state legislature earlier this month.

The bill requires that in order to be eligible for state funds, libraries must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which holds that “materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation,” and “should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval”.

It comes amid a surge in the banning of reading material across the US, with book bans in public schools jumping by almost one third in the first half of the 2022-23 academic year, according to PEN America.

Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, currently the governor of Florida, who has vowed to “wage a war on woke”, last year brought in a series of laws to make it easier for parents to challenge books or educational material available in schools.

Last week, a poem written for Joe Biden’s inauguration was removed by a school in Miami after a parent complained that it carried indirect “hate messages”.

It is against this backdrop that the Illinois senate passed its proposed legislation against book bans earlier this month. The bill was sent to Democratic governor Pritzker last week and, if signed, will take effect on Jan 1 next year.

The bill would withhold state funding from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries that remove books from their shelves.

Libraries across Illinois receive a total of around $62 million (£49.8 million) in funding each year.

“In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth,” Mr Pritzker said in a statement when the legislation was introduced in March. “We embrace it and lead with it. Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic history of many.”