Anti-book ban bills introduced in NYS Assembly
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Glens Cove, Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, and Assenblyman Brian Cunningham, D-Brooklyn, introduced bills within days of each other that would deal with book bans. None of the legislation is likely to be taken up until the next regular state legislative session begins in January.
Lavine was first with A.7830, which stipulates that publicly funded libraries can’t ban books because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. He proposes every library that receives state money adopt the American Library Association’s library bill of rights, which states materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Libraries would also be given the option of creating a statement prohibiting the practice of banning books or other materials within the library or library system. Lavine also wants school boards to adopt similar language for school libraries.
“Book banning, a form of censorship, occurs when private individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes,” Lavine wrote. “In New York state, there is evidence of at least 13 book bans in four school districts. The issue has been playing out locally in school board meetings and social media pages.”
According to a March report by the Associated Press, attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries set a record in 2022, according to a new report from the American Library Association. More than 1,200 challenges were compiled by the association in 2022, nearly double the then-record total from 2021 and by far the most since the ALA began keeping data 20 years ago. Lavine cited a PEN America report showing from July to December 2022, there were 1,477 cases of books being removed, up from 1,149 during the previous six months.
At the same time, Kelles and Cunningham propose withholding aid to libraries that ban books. Kelles (A.7843) wants to require libraries to have policies prohibiting the banning of books in order to receive state aid by adding a stipulation to the state Education Law.
“Many municipalities and states across America are:banning books from libraries that help the community understand and relate to our society, history, and diversity of identities and backgrounds,” Kelles wrote in her legislative justification. “‘Protecting’ the public and children from the written word and difficult or uncomfortable realities does nothing to ensure people understand history and prevent such outcomes in future. This bill protects our libraries from arbitrary and counterproductive censorship that infringes the freedom of speech and access to critical knowledge.”
Cunningham, meanwhile, proposes a similar system in A.7878 by changing state law to state that libraries won’t receive state aid unless they adopt the American Library Association’s Library bill of rights or develop their own policies prohibiting book bans. Libraries would be given 90 days from the bill’s signing to take action.
Some books have been targeted by liberals because of racist language — notably Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — but the majority of complaints come from conservatives, directed at works with LGBTQIA+ or racial themes, according to an Associated Press report. They include Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” and a book-length edition of the “1619 Project,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning report from The New York Times on the legacy of slavery in the U.S.
Bills facilitating the restriction of books have been proposed or passed in Arizona, Iowa, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, among other states. In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has approved laws to review reading materials and limit classroom discussion of gender identity and race books pulled indefinitely or temporarily include John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” Colleen Hoover’s “Hopeless,” Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Grace Lin’s picture story “Dim Sum for Everyone!”
“Censorship and book banning are counter to the values we hold dear in New York state,” Cunningham wrote in his legislative justification “Through these practices, history, culture, and identities are erased. Learning from others who may have differing viewpoints from us is crucial to a healthy democracy. This bill would prohibit the banning of books by withholding state funding from any library or system that seeks to do so. Libraries must either adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or develop their own statements against banning books.”