Protecting the Freedom of Reading during the Rise of Book Censorship

Natalie Jakubowski 

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

This year, September 18th marked the start of Banned Books Week, which ran through September 24th with the purpose of bringing awareness to books that have been banned in libraries and classrooms across the United States. With the recent rise of politicization of education in America, the movement to ban books has skyrocketed. This year is already seeing record numbers of restrictions on books being taught in schools, with the American Library Association citing close to 700 book challenges that have already been brought. The rise of book censorship is being fueled by organizations with a focus on censoring books they deem should be banned from schools, who are compiling lists of hundreds of books with themes they disagree with.

Currently, Texas holds the highest numbers of school book bans, nearing around 800 bans throughout the state. Other states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee are close behind. This number has already exceeded in comparison to last year. Currently, there are book bans in schools districts across 32 states in the country, with some school districts having banned over hundreds of books from their libraries. The movement to restrict schools from allowing students access to books with diverse and progressive characters and topics does not seem to be slowing down.

Impacts of bans

Many targeted books on these ban lists have diverse themes and characters, and cover topics that are unconventional or progressive. Literary organizations, such as the American Library Association, and educational groups like the National Education Association condemn book bans, arguing that they restrict access to resources and education on many of these very important topics.

There are a few common themes that are constantly present among books that organizations are demanding be banned. The two largest categories present in banned books are LGBTQ+ and racial themes about diversity or oppression. The push towards more censorship of books of these categories shows a shocking regression after so much work that has been accomplished in the past decade regarding gay rights and remedying past racial discrimination.

Those who support book bans feel that parents should have more control over censoring the “inappropriate” content that their children have access to. On the other side, and along with most Americans, many believe that censoring diverse books can negatively impact children and goes against democratic values in general. Banning books because of their focus on diverse stories sends a negative and harmful message to students that these are stories that shouldn’t be allowed to be talked about.

Censorship in the education workplace

Teachers and school districts are feeling the impacts of the censoring regulations that book bans are having in their schools and classrooms. There are unprecedented rises in police reports being filed against schools and libraries that have “obscene” or “inappropriate” books on their shelves as organization and parents attempt to regulate curriculum. One school district has even implemented a system that notifies parents what books their children are checking out.

Regulations of books available to students are now not only being endorsed by parents and organizations, but by politicians and officials as well. Book bans are being pushed by politicians under the guise of handing more control over to parents, even though many educators and pedagogical organizations are concerned over the harmful reduction of resources containing diverse and important stories.

Regulating book bans

Book bans pose the question of constitutionality with respect to first amendment freedoms such as freedom of speech. In the 1982 Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Pico, the court held that a school board cannot take away books from their schools’ libraries. However, the first amendment only places an injunction on schools from banning books, not on private groups and individuals. When book bans are brought from organizations and parents in the community, some school districts may feel pressured to abide by these requests for regulation.

Due to the amount and intensity of the book ban efforts in the past year, legislators are beginning to draft legislation to protect students’ freedom of access to resources. The draft legislation relies heavily on the idea of protecting first amendment rights of both students and authors who should be allowed to write about their experiences and stories that could leave a positive and lasting impact on young readers.

Looking to the future, as book bans continue to rise, more awareness is being brought to legislators to help stop the harmful censorship. The question now is whether legislation will be able to pass in order to allow students the freedom of reading diverse stories and perspectives.