Illinois governor signs ‘nation-leading’ law banning book bans

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has signed a bill into law that effectively outlaws book bans in schools and public libraries, a response to right-wing challenges to library materials and classroom instruction surging across the country and threatening access to hundreds of titles, mostly involving LGBT+ people and honest discussions of race and racism.

“Here in Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it,” the Democratic governor said in a statement announcing his signature on the legislation, which his office hailed as a “nation-leading” response to censorship campaigns targeting schools and libraries.

“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, and thoughtful about what comes next,” he added.

The law, which was signed on 12 June and goes into effect on 1 January, 2024, instructs the state librarian and the Illinois State Library to implement the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights across its facilities.

That statement prohibits libraries from removing materials because of partisan or personal objections, and libraries in the state that do not adopt the ALA’s policy or a similar statement will be ineligible for state-funded grants.

“We refuse to let a vitriolic strain of White nationalism coursing through our country determine whose histories are told, not in Illinois,” Mr Pritzker said in remarks from Chicago’s Harold Washington Library.

There have been at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to free expression group PEN America, which monitors book challenges across the US. The figures mark a nearly 30 per cent spike from book challenges over the previous year.

Last year, a record high of more than 1,200 attempts to remove books from schools and libraries were reported to the American Library Association, marking the most attempts to remove books and materials since the organisation began reporting such data more than 20 years ago.

Those attempts targeted 2,571 unique titles, according to the ALA.

In 2022, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois libraries, the group found.

More than 100 bills filed in state legislatures across the country this year threatened to cut library budgets, implement book rating systems, regulate the kinds of books and materials in their collections, and amend obscenity definitions that preempt First Amendment protections, according to a database from EveryLibrary.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced a suite of federal measures intended to bolster protections for LGBT+ people, including the appointment of a federal monitor with the US Department of Education to address the spike in book challenges.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, a former educator, has supported the legislation and connected threats to learning materials to a broader lack of access in vulnerable communities,

Including “voting rights, access to gender rights, access to health care, and access to fully funded schools,” he said in a statement.

“We cannot continue turning the clock back on children who have already experienced decades of disinvestment,” he added.

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