Illinois libraries that ban books may soon be ineligible for state grants

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Illinois legislators on Wednesday sent a bill to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) that would require libraries to adopt policies prohibiting book bans to remain eligible for state grants.

The legislation is the first of its kind in the country, said Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias (D), who has been vocal against banning books and led the charge for the state’s bill.

It comes as book bans across the United States reached record highs during the last school year and are expected to continue proliferating, according to national organizations. Originally filed in February, the bill passed Wednesday in the Illinois Senate on a 39-19 vote along party lines.

In 2022, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois, up from 41 the previous year, Giannoulias’s office said in a news release Wednesday, citing data from the American Library Association. The organization said there were 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources across the United States that same year.

“It’s honestly hard and deeply disheartening to figure out how we even got to this point,” Giannoulias said in a news conference after the vote. “Regardless, it’s shameful that it’s gotten this far, and I’m proud that in Illinois, we’re the first state in the country to do something about it.”

On Thursday, Pritzker said in a tweet that he plans to sign the bill. In his State of the State address in February, the governor spoke directly about censorship and book bans in schools.

“It’s an ideological battle by the right wing, hiding behind a claim that they would protect our children, but whose real intention is to marginalize people and ideas they don’t like,” Pritzker said.

Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D), one of the sponsors of House Bill 2789, cited a dispute in her district that inspired her to learn more about book bans.

During the 2021-22 school year, members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, attended school board meetings for Community High School District 99 as it weighed whether to keep the book “Gender Queer” on its shelves, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“Gender Queer,” written by the nonbinary author Maia Kobabe, includes themes of gender and sexuality and has been subject to book bans across the United States. In 2022, the graphic novel was at the top of the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books, adding that it was debated for its LGBTQ+ and “sexually explicit” content.

Ultimately, the District 99 school board voted to keep the book at Downers Grove North and South high schools, according to the Sun-Times.

But after seeing the board face what Stava-Murray described as an “obnoxious campaign of public bigotry,” she said she looked into the issue and found attempts to ban books were happening across the state at an alarming rate.

When Giannoulias asked if she would sponsor HB 2789, it was a “hearty yes,” she said during the Wednesday news conference.

Banning books “isn’t about keeping people safe – it’s about keeping them marginalized,” Stava-Murray said. “The goal of this legislation is to nip that sort of behavior in the bud by making it clear that suppressing viewpoints, perspectives or information using state funds is simply no longer an option.”

If Pritzker signs the bill, as he has indicated he will, libraries would be required to either adopt the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights or develop their own written statement that prohibits banning books or other materials so that they can remain eligible for state funding.

The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights states that libraries should not exclude items “because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation” and should not remove books “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Noncompliant libraries in the state could risk losing significant funding. During the last fiscal year, Giannoulias’ office awarded more than $62 million through 1,631 grants – 97 percent of which went to public and school libraries.

On Wednesday, Giannoulias quoted author Ray Bradbury, who wrote the 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451,” about a fictional society where books have been outlawed: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Giannoulias said the bill protects freedom of speech and the “freedom to think critically.”

“Just because books aren’t burned in a local town square doesn’t make restricting public access to them any more acceptable,” he said.

If it is signed, the law would take effect on Jan. 1.



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