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Censorship

Write Your Legislators About Banned Books Right Now With This Template: Book Censorship News, February 10, 2023

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

With the new legislative season in full swing, now is a crucial time to write to your representatives. We’re seeing unbelievable numbers of new proposals to outlaw intellectual freedom, to criminalize library workers and educators for providing queer and/or diverse literature to their communities, to ban drag shows (including drag storytimes), and to make being queer or a person of color even harder than it already is. You can track every single bill of concern to the freedom to read here, and you should.

In addition to keeping an eye on that legislation, no matter where you are in the country, you need to write your representatives about the importance of intellectual freedom and First Amendment Rights for all. Right now, there are very few public officials championing these freedoms nor proposing legislation that would further enshrine these rights to those from whom they’re being not-so-slowly stripped. Whether you’re in a state facing book ban laws or not, each letter sent is one more voice added to the chorus demanding for better.

This weekend, spend 15 minutes to look up the person who represents you both in your state government and D.C. You can look up everyone who works on your behalf right here by inputting your full address. Once you’ve done that, you have a couple of options: write to the primary decision makers who represent you, including your state congressional and senate representatives and those senators and congress people working for you in D.C. (so you’d send a few emails) OR choose to contact every single person listed who would be appropriate to reach out to (your local sheriff might not be useful here, but maybe enough emails land in the inbox of a lower-ranking politician or one who represents you at the county level might draw some attention).

Then, you’re going to compose a letter for each individual you’ve identified. But never fear: you don’t even need to do the work to compose the letter. Below is a template you can use. Change details where appropriate, and feel free to add anything else which you feel may be worthwhile. You can cut, too — this is a longer letter meant to help you have handy access to statistics, data, and relevant court cases that bolster your message.

Don’t feel limited here. Set yourself a reminder every other week or every month to reach out. Continue to send these emails periodically, and if you’re invested, make a phone call. You can use the template here as your script. Yes, it’s scary. But what’s a hell of a lot scarier than making a phone call that an assistant answers is not having books on library shelves…and knowing you could have done something to help save the lives of marginalized people blatantly targeted by bigotry.

You can save and edit this letter as a Google Document as well.

[Date]

Dear [Name of Individual],

First Amendment Rights are under attack across the country. With ever-rising numbers of book bans, more and more students are losing out on the right to access information in their very own school and public libraries. PEN America reported in July 2022 that over 4 million students lost access to books in their schools; that number has only increased substantially, thanks to coordinated efforts to ban books happening both on the local level and national level. Entire states are putting effort to criminalize librarians and educators for having books on shelves.

Only 8% of Americans believe book bans are good. In making decisions for upcoming elections, about 75% of Americans will be bringing the issue of book bans and the freedom to read with them to the polls. And when given the opportunity to opt their students out of books, only 1% of parents elect to do so. The costs of administering a program of opt-outs is costing education millions of dollars in paperwork for something that almost no parent wants and demands to continue these programs will continue to drain education budgets.

Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1968 cemented the rights of students in education; they do not lose their rights simply by being in an educational system. Further, Pico vs. Island Trees ruled in 1982 that public schools cannot remove books from schools because it is a First Amendment violation of students’ rights. Right now, the fight about books in schools is focused on “parental rights,” purposefully ignoring the rights students have to a well-rounded education that teaches them not what to think, but how to think. That is what including books by and about people of color and those from marginalized genders and sexualities does. Not only are young people given windows and mirrors into our globe and the people inhabiting it, but they’re given the chance to talk about tough, challenging topics that encourage them to dive deeper, to do research, to evaluate the sources of their information, and to ultimately become capable and engaged citizens.

The parents upset about books and lessons could solve the issue by speaking directly to their students’ teachers and librarians. They already offer alternate assignments.

Right now, young people’s rights to books, to classroom lessons, and to their own libraries are being destroyed. Right-wing politicians and dark money have created a system wherein more time and effort is being used to placate a small but vocal subset of parents, rather than to ensure students are able to get the education they need to navigate our world. Library workers and educators are being maligned as “groomers” and “indoctrinators” for merely giving students access to information, to books, and to lessons that will help them grow, develop, and think for themselves. These same librarians and educators are removing books from shelves or not buying them at all out of fear for their lives.

[Feel free to address specific examples from your state or community here, with links to stories covered in the media].

As someone with the power to stand up for student rights, for public education, please put this at the forefront of your work. It is happening in our backyard, and it is chipping away at our public institutions. Ensure that books are allowed to remain on shelves by ensuring that First Amendment Rights remain the purview of all and not just those with the most money, most connections, and most to gain from destroying the codified rights of young people.

Please advocate for the rights of all. It’s your job, and we need more people to not just stand up for, but actively reaffirm and uphold, the rights people have to borrow, read, and talk about books, literature, and factual information.

Without good education, without good leadership and access provided to you by libraries and teachers, you would not have made it to where you are. Now it’s time for you to do the same for other young people who want to change the world for good.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

Once you send this letter, then go ahead and send another one via this convenient form from EveryLibrary. Multiple letters from multiple avenues are good.

Then, of course, take a minute to send a letter of support to your local school and library boards. There’s a template for that, too.

Book Censorship News: February 7, 2023

  • Starting with huge — and positive — news, since it’s not going up from here. Brooky Parks, who was terminated from her job as a librarian when she called out High Plains Library District’s (Colorado) new discriminatory policy against LGBTQ+/diversity programs (covered here), just won her lawsuit against the district. It was wrongful termination. This is a case to keep an eye on, as it’s a reminder of employee rights AND why any public institution implementing discriminatory policies is putting themselves in the line of fire.
  • 23 books have been removed from St. Johns County School shelves in Florida. Even more are under review.
  • Here’s the lengthy report from the Louisiana Attorney General on naughty books in libraries and how he is going to “Protect Innocence.” You have to put in your birthday to access this.
  • “James said the current system is working, because it allows parents to direct the school to deny their children access to certain materials. She said some of the parents who spoke at the committee meeting did not fully go through the process available prevent their children from accessing these books. Some of the parents challenged books in classes their children were not enrolled in.” Look, more “parents” lying about books and student access to material in Iowa schools and libraries. Of note: no educators or librarians were in this meeting because, I suspect, they’d explain that these people are lying.
  • And since Governor Kim Reynolds keynoted a Moms For Liberty town hall in Iowa, of course she spoke about how a book banned in one district should be banned state-wide. When I lived and went to college in Iowa, there was a real concerted effort to combat the state’s “brain drain” crisis — students would get educated in the state then leave, so the focus was on how to get them to stay. Looks like now, the government is more interested in draining brains themselves.
  • The reading app in Orange County, California, schools, which was removed because some parents were mad about some books — thus revoking the rights of all students to access ANY materials on it — has been restored.
  • Florida’s party of small government is writing letters to school districts demanding to know about books in their classrooms and libraries. This is how they’re wasting taxpayer dollars.
  • Public library trustees in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, are hearing and considering complaints to remove six queer books from library shelves this week. The books will be staying on shelves.
  • Queer books have been under attack at the Columbia County rural library system (Washington) and while a decision to move those books out of the children’s area was made…there might be more decisions on the horizon to eliminate the books from the collection.
  • “Wright emailed the school board and BCS Director David Murrell a list of nearly 70 books that she said was the result of searching the school libraries online database for the topics gay, lesbian, gender, transgender and homosexual. “My sincere hope is that you will glance through it and, if religious, pray about it and decide whether it is appropriate to expose our children to this material,” Wright wrote. “I do want to add that I am not attempting to ban books,” she wrote. “If there are gay or lesbian couples with children then they can certainly buy these books and read them to their children and explain their views to them. But the majority of our parents are not LGBTQ+.” They always say they don’t want to ban books after they’ve submitted a list of books and given a dramatic performance at the school board meeting about how these books need to be removed. This one’s in Blount County, Tennessee.
  • So the city of Liberty Lake, Washington, wants to remove the power of the city’s public library board because they decided last year not to remove Gender Queer from the shelves when right-wing parents complained. Okay, fascism.
  • While Stamped will not be removed from middle school library shelves in Sarasota, Florida, students need parental permission to read it. They need parental permission to read a book about the history of being Black in America. Reread that.
  • Somewhere near 70 people want to be book banners in Flagler County schools (Florida). I hope among them are individuals who don’t want to do that, but it is hard to have that kind of hope anymore.
  • This is an EXCELLENT editorial about what is truly happening with book bans right now. It’s a violation of parental rights.
  • The fate of Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe will be decided in Sumner schools (Maine) in early March.
  • “As of the Thursday [February 2] school board meeting, Clay County District Schools has received 216 library book challenges. Thirty books have already been reviewed, with 186 still awaiting the review process. Challenged books are removed from all school library shelves until a review is complete.” They remove the books when they’re under review, which is, indeed…censorship.
  • Look at the failed would-be politicians and board members in Campbell County, Kentucky, who decided they’d use their failures to form a Moms for Liberty chapter. This newspaper wrote a story as if they are an organization worth writing about in a neutral tone. Recall: they don’t ban books. They challenge them. You know…as if books can respond back to those challenges.
  • There is a lot to unpack about what’s happening in Central Bucks schools (Pennsylvania). They’ve realized they need to buy challenged books to review them as a committee, but spend some time unpacking the Christian law firm used by the Republican school board.
  • 11 LGBTQ+ books are being challenged by bigots in Oceanside schools (California).
  • This should not count as good news, but in today’s world, it is. In Lynchburg, Virginia, schools, books will be opt-out, rather than changed to opt-in.
  • Wilson County, Tennessee, parents are still apparently not happy that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was not entirely removed from the schools (i.e. banned) and were instead moved to restricted access. So now they are “challenging” that decision. Not ban, though, I guess?
  • 17 books in Nottoway schools (Virginia) are under fire for falling under the “explicit content” laws in the state. Yeah, that includes such inappropriate books as To Kill a Mockingbird.