Chairman Raskin, Senator Schatz Introduce Bicameral Resolution Recognizing Banned Books Week
Washington D.C. (September 22, 2022)— Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Sen. Brian Schatz introduced a resolution recognizing Banned Books Week and condemning the profound attacks on books and freedom of expression in the United States. The resolution, which comes amid a disturbing rise in book bans, acknowledges the central role books play in democratic and civil discourse and urges Congress to denounce the illegitimate processes being used to ban books in K-12 classrooms, universities, prisons, and libraries.
“The wave of book bans that has swept across our country in recent years is a direct attack on First Amendment rights and should alarm every American who believes that freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of our democracy,” said Chairman Raskin. “The efforts to remove books from schools and public libraries simply because they introduce ideas about diversity or challenge students to think beyond their own lived experience is not only anti-democratic but also a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. During this Banned Books Week, we must call attention to these threats to freedom of expression, reaffirm our commitment to protect First Amendment rights, and, most importantly, read banned books.”
“Any attempt to ban books is wrong. Full stop. These renewed efforts to stop people from accessing books simply because some disagree with an idea or are afraid of history being told accurately are wrong and un-American. Freedom of expression is a founding principle of our country, and it’s up to all of us to stand up against these attacks on this fundamental right,” said Sen. Schatz.
The resolution is co-sponsored by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Jamaal Bowman, Veronica Escobar, Raúl Grijalva, Jared Huffman, Hank Johnson, Carolyn B. Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Rashida Tlaib, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
The resolution is endorsed by several organizations including PEN America, American Library Association, American Federation of Teachers, Campaign for Our Shared Future, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, EveryLibrary, Florida Freedom to Read Project, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, National Education Association, National Book Foundation, Banned Books Week Coalition, Red Wine and Blue Education Fund, Protect Diversity, and Stand for Children.
“Book bans are a blatant affront to free expression, the lifeblood of our democracy,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, the Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs. “Limiting access to literature stifles the free exchange of ideas essential to public education, and these encroachments on open inquiry too often exclude the voices of historically marginalized communities from the conversation, sending a chilling message to educators and students that certain ideas and perspectives are off limits. The rights to free expression enshrined in the First Amendment do not end at the schoolhouse gate. Amid brazen trends of censorship targeting our nation’s classrooms, PEN America lauds Congressman Raskin’s resolution, which is an incisive reaffirmation of First Amendment principles.”
“Across the country, librarians and educators are on the front lines, facing unprecedented attacks simply for helping Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, President of the American Library Association. “We are proud to stand with Congressman Raskin in defense of Americans’ freedom to read.”
“Books play a central role in democratic and civil discourse and banning books is dangerous—it’s government censorship and an erosion of our country’s commitment to free expression,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “During Banned Books Week, America’s educators, parents, librarians, historians, civil rights leaders, Members of Congress and others are coming together to celebrate reading and the importance of intellectual freedom, and to urge extremist politicians to stop dictating what everyone can read. These extremists play on fear. Fear of the other, of change. Fear built on false narratives. As our country becomes more diverse, they prey on racial and economic anxieties. And public education is smack in the middle of these efforts. We continue to stand with Representative Raskin and other champions in Congress who are reaffirming our freedoms through multiple hearings examining attacks on free speech and academic censorship, and again, with the introduction of this resolution. We know the stakes. For our freedoms, for our democracy, for our schools, and for economic fairness and dignity. We also know books unite us, and censorship divides us.”
The Banned Books Week Congressional Resolution seeks to recognize these book bans as alarming threats to freedom of expression, reiterates the United States’ commitment to supporting writers’ freedom of expression, and urges local governments and educational institutions to respond appropriately to book bans.
The resolution follows a Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing in April that examined nationwide efforts to ban books from schools and public libraries based on ideological motivations. During the 2021-22 school year alone, at least 2,500 unique books, including repeated titles, were banned in the U.S., according to PEN America. Many of these banned books feature protagonists of color, LGBTQ+ characters, and themes about mental illness. These bans have also targeted award-winning literature, including books by George Orwell, Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, and Zora Neal Hurston.
State legislatures have also moved to restrict books and curricula on race and gender in schools, with more than 150 educational gag order bills introduced in states across the country since January 2021. Many of these bills provide for punishment against teachers and schools, including termination or revocation of teaching licenses, liability in civil lawsuits, and defunding schools or school districts. The grave implications of book bans have led the Supreme Court to, time and time again, strike down book bans in school classrooms and public libraries for violating the First Amendment. These efforts to suppress the freedom to read and deny access to literature, history, and knowledge is an inherently anti-democratic tactic often employed by authoritarian regimes.
Click here to read the text of the Banned Books Week House Resolution.