Illinois set to become first state to end book bans

Politico — May 3, 2023

Illinois is poised to become the first state to punish public institutions that ban books.

Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has said he supports a House bill that would withhold state funding from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries that remove books from their shelves. It passed in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, and Pritzker is expected to sign the legislation.

“In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it and lead with it,” the governor said when the bill was first presented. “Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic stories of many.”

The final version of House Bill 2789 passed the state Senate 39 to 19 after it was approved in March by the House on a 66 to 39 vote.

The impetus for the legislation came from newly elected Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees library systems and their funding. Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he couldn’t fathom that book banning is happening in 2023.

“It is so blatant, and so dangerous. I was blown away,” he told POLITICO.

Efforts to curb reading materials are “about restricting the freedom of ideas that certain individuals disagree with and that certain individuals think others should have access to,” he said.

Giannoulias says this legislation is the only one of its kind.

Illinois doles out some $62 million to libraries around the state each year, according to Giannoulias’ office.

“All these efforts to curb reading materials have absolutely nothing to do with books. They are about restricting the freedom of ideas that certain individuals disagree with and that certain individuals think others should have access to,” Giannoulias told POLITICO.

Republican lawmakers who oppose the legislation have argued that their goal is to make sure books distributed in public schools and libraries are age appropriate.

Republican state Sen. Jason Plummer on Wednesday called the legislation an example of Democrats “pushing an ideology on Illinois citizens, regardless of where they live or what they believe.”

He said it was “offensive to take away public funds from people whose taxes paid for these grants.”

Other Republicans raised questions about the bill possibly allowing libraries that don’t allow drag shows to reserve library meeting rooms to be penalized, which sponsors say are decisions that should be decided by librarians, not community members who oppose such groups.

Giannoulias disagrees with the idea that locals would lose control, saying local librarians “have the educational and professional experience to determine what’s in circulation. Let them decide.”

The bill says that in order for public libraries, including in public schools and universities, to remain eligible for grant funding, they must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or adopt their own written statement prohibiting the banning of books.

A library that doesn’t certify either of the statements, or takes the next step of banning a book, will not be eligible for grant funding from the secretary of state, according to the secretary’s office.

Giannoulias proposed the idea of banning book bans during his campaign last year and then approached Democratic state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray about following through with legislation. She had a special interest because a group of parents at a high school in her district demanded a book about a nonbinary person coming out — “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe — be banned from the school district’s shelves. The parents called the book pornographic.

Members of the Proud Boys attended a school board meeting on the issue. After much debate, the book stayed, but the concerns lingered for Stava-Murray.

“The kids luckily stood up for the book. That community rallied around the kids,” Stava-Murray told POLITICO.

Stava-Murray said she researched the issue and saw other communities across the country facing similar challenges, so she set out to create the legislation.

The American Library Association has said it’s seen a record 1,200 challenges to books over the past year, nearly double from the previous year.

Most of the titles challenged in 2022 “were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color,” according to the association. In Illinois, the organization said there were 43 attempts that year to limit access to books.

President Joe Biden has blamed “MAGA extremists” for attempts to ban books and made ending book bans a central part of his reelection campaign.