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Illinois experts testify against book bans before Congress

Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Friday, 18, 2023. Although not new, book challenges have surged in public schools since 2020, part of a broader backlash to what kids read and discuss in school.

WASHINGTON – Book bans have been growing in many states and some Illinois experts on the subject brought the matter before the US Congress. 

US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“Let’s be clear. Efforts to ban books are wrong whether they come from the right or the left,” said Sen. Durbin.

And most of those bans have been coming from Republican-led states where conservative beliefs on cultural issues dominate the book banning landscape. In these states, the American Library Association reports the number of book challenges has grown exponentially.

“In 2022, there were over a thousand requests to ban books in public schools and libraires. The most in almost 20 years,” said Sen. Durbin.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias is troubled by the situation. As Secretary of state, Giannoulias also serves as the Illinois ‘State Librarian,’ and he says parents and politicians should have a healthy respect for librarians:

“What we’re saying is let’s trust our librarians to make these decisions, not an individual parent who is angry or disagrees with a certain viewpoint,” said Secretary Giannoulias.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said ‘leave book bans up to parents and school boards:’

“I don’t think there’s one person on our side of the aisle that believes that we, the federal government, should be deciding these issues,” said Sen. Graham.

And when it comes to the role of government, he asked this question:

“What is our role here?,” asked Sen. Graham. “What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to take over every school board in the country and veto their decisions about what books go into public schools?”

What lawmakers are supposed to do, said Emily Knox, is remember this:

“These laws to censor books are unconstitutional and against every person’s right to individual freedom,” said Knox. 

Knox is an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She says banning books is not the answer.

“We must remember as citizens of the United States, we are a free people and it is our right to read freely,” said Knox.

Sen. Durbin said yes, individual parents have the right to tell their own children what they should or should not read.

“But no parent should have the right to tell another parent’s child what they can or cannot read in school or home,” said Sen. Durbin.

“Authoritarian regimes ban books, not democracies,” said Giannoulias says.

And he included a quote from Ray Bradbury, the Illinois author who wrote Fahrenheit 451. It reads, “The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

That says Giannoulias, is where the real danger lies.

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