Illinois becomes first state in U.S. to put a ban on book bans with new law

Essence — June 14, 2023

Illinois becomes first state in U.S. to put a ban on book bans with new law

As book bansin Republican-led states seem to be sweeping the country, Illinois is now a beacon of hope as it became the first U.S. state “to outlaw book bans after Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday signed legislation that would cut off state funding for any Illinois library that tries to ban books.”

Before signing the bill into law, Pritzker said, “Book bans are about censorship; marginalizing people, marginalizing ideas and facts. Regimes ban books, not democracies.”

After the Illinois Library Systems Act goes into effect as of January 1, 2024, Illinois public “libraries would only be eligible for state funding if they adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which holds that books ‘should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.'” Materials should also not be “excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation,” per the association’s Library Bill of Rights.

Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Secretary of State and also state librarian who was a driving force behind the law, said, “We are not saying that every book should be in every single library. What this law does is it says, let’s trust our experience and education of our librarians to decide what books should be in circulation.”

Democrat Anna Stava-Murray said she sponsored the legislation in the state house after a school board in the district she represents faced immense pressure to ban specific content from their school libraries.

Stava-Murray was also present at the bill’s signing into law on Monday, which occurred at a downtown Chicago children’s library. She said, “While it’s true that kids need guidance and that some ideas can be objectionable, trying to weaponize local government to force one-size-fits-all standards onto the entire community for reasons of bigotry or as a substitute for active and involved parenting is wrong.”

As Deborah Caldwell-Stone, American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom director and Freedom to Read Foundation executive director, stated, “Illinois legislation responds to disturbing circumstances of censorship and an environment of suspicion.”

Despite the assertion that this should not be a Republican nor Democratic issue, approval for the new law was predictably split across party lines.

Republican House Minority Leader Tony McCombie said, “I support local control. Our caucus does not believe in banning books, but we do believe that the content of books should be considered in their placement on the shelves.”

According to the American Library Association, in 2022, “attempts to censor books in schools and public libraries reached a 20-year high in 2022 — twice as many as 2021, the previous record.” Of those 2,571 targeted for censorship, “the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.”

In the state of Illinois, there were 67 attempts to ban books in 2022. Currently, the five states most prevalently outlawing books are Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Approximately one-third of these book bans went into effect due to state laws.

Could this new law mean that the tide against book censorship is reversing? Last week, President Joe Biden announced plans to appoint a new federal coordinator to address the rise in book bans.