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Illinois becomes first state to pass law curtailing book bans

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CHICAGO (Reuters) – Illinois has become the first state to legislate against the banning of books in public libraries, a practice that has been on the rise across the United States as conservatives look to suppress some books dealing with race, history and LGBTQ topics.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed the historic measure into law on Monday in a Chicago library. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, the governor’s office said in a statement.

“Here in Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it,” Pritzker said. “Young people shouldn’t be kept from learning about the realities of our world; I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome.”

Under the new law, Illinois public libraries can only access state grants if they adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which stipulates that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

During the 2021-2022 school year, the push to ban books has accelerated, as issues such as transgender rights and critical race theory, which highlights how racism is systemic part of U.S. legal history, have become political and social flashpoints, especially in conservative Republican-dominated states such as Florida and Texas.

Conservatives have called on public schools and libraries to remove more than 1,600 titles, according to a report published in September by PEN America, an advocacy group that says its mission to protect freedom expression.

In Illinois alone, there were 67 attempts to ban books in 2022, according to the Chicago-based American Library Association (ALA), which has been tracking censorship attempts nationwide. It says the majority of books targeted were written about or by LGTBQ people or people of color.

Some advocates for restrictions on books in schools and libraries say some materials are sexually explicit. They also call for parents to have more control over what materials are available to their children.

“We object to gender influencing, indoctrination of our kids toward anti-racism and leftist agendas,” Laura Hois, co-chair of a chapter of Awake Illinois in Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb, said to a local ABC affiliate. “We’re objecting to those things yet Governor Pritzker keeps taking more and more steps to extinguish parental rights.”

Utah, Missouri and several other states have enacted laws that allow school administrations to restrict books that they deem inappropriate for young readers, according to PEN America.

“The books in our libraries should be chosen by librarians, not extremist politicians. Other states may choose to embrace prejudice and divisive ideologies, but our state is going in a better direction,” said Democratic State Representative Anne Stava-Murray, who represents Downers Grove, in support of the Illinois measure.

One of the most frequently banned book has been “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, while the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose works largely deal with African-American history, has been one of the most banned authors.

Just this spring, a school in Miami-Dade County removed a book containing the poem that young Black poet Amanda Gorman recited at President Joe Biden’s inauguration from its library used by elementary students. The poem “The Hill We Climb,” offers a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country.

 

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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