WASHINGTON — With moves to ban books increasing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., next Tuesday chairs a hearing on the controversial issue with Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias to testify about the state’s first-in-the-nation ban against bans.
Giannoulias, who took the lead on the legislation that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed June 12, said in an interview that opposing moves to ban books is a “fight for democracy and the freedom to learn.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Book Bans: How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature,” will include other witnesses selected by Democrats and Republicans on the panel.
Durbin said in a statement, “Book banning is not a new concept, but our country repeatedly learns the same lesson: that banning books violates our most cherished principles as Americans and restricts our liberties. We must protect our students and their freedom to read and learn.”
The Illinois law, effective on Jan. 1, comes as book banning has evolved into a contentious partisan issue with a political impact ranging from contests for local school and library board seats to the GOP presidential primary.
Last March, a report from the Chicago-based American Library Association found “1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021.”
Those demands targeted, the ALA said, a record 2,571 titles, the vast majority of which “were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.”
The ALA found that there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, up from 41 the year before.
Outlawing book bans in deep blue Illinois faced no major challenge because Democrats control all statewide offices and the governorship and hold supermajorities in both chambers in the Illinois General Assembly.
The new Illinois law makes it state policy to adopt the American Library Association “bill of rights” opposing “attempts to ban, remove, or otherwise restrict access to books or other materials.”
Libraries that take books out of circulation “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval” will be ineligible for state funding, according to the new law.
A growing number of red states led by Republicans are leading the movement to ban books.
Last April, PEN America, a nonprofit defending the rights of authors to present their views, found that “book bans are most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina. These bans are driven by a confluence of local actors and state-level policy. The implications of bans in these five states are far-reaching, as policies and practices are modeled and replicated across the country.”
Red states surrounding Illinois are now mounting bans as well. Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, are planning, WBEZ’s Arionne Nettles reported, “to make it easier for books to be challenged and the consequences for pushing back against such restrictions more severe.”