Censorship Crisis: PA Senate Democrats Tackle Rising Book Bans in Public Libraries

Censorship policy hearingImage via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

PENNSYLVANIA — In a bid to address the growing issue of censorship and book bans in public libraries, State Senator Katie Muth, Chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, led a public hearing in Harrisburg. The hearing was co-hosted with State Rep. Ryan Bizarro, Senator Amanda Cappelletti, and Rep. Paul Friel.

The hearing, conducted at the State Capitol on Thursday, hosted three panels comprising educators, parents, and policy experts. The discussions revolved around the surge in book bans across Pennsylvania and the nation.

Muth expressed concerns over the discriminatory nature of these bans, highlighting that they rob students of their freedom to discover themselves in literature. She also pointed out the need for elected representatives to stand against this movement to whitewash history and silence marginalized communities.

The American Library Association has recorded the highest number of attempted book bans in the past two decades. Pennsylvania is among the states leading in book-banning efforts, with 56 attempts to ban 302 unique titles last year alone. Most banned titles were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Senator Cappelletti stressed the importance of opposing book bans and fostering literacy. She noted the community’s disadvantages when a book is banned in a library, school district, or classroom.

Cappelletti has introduced Senate Bill 926 to help combat this issue. The bill, currently in the Senate Education Committee, mandates the adoption of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights by local libraries and Pennsylvania’s State Librarian. The bill also requires libraries to create a written statement prohibiting book bans. Non-compliant libraries would be ineligible for state funding under Senate Bill 926.

Echoing Cappelletti’s sentiments, Rep. Friel emphasized that while parents have a right to determine what’s suitable for their children, they cannot dictate appropriateness for all children.

Friel has introduced House Bill 1506, the Freedom to Read Act, which aims to streamline the process for appeals against book bans. The bill, now in the House Education Committee, proposes that the responsibility for reviews be placed with a regional committee of instructional experts, including librarians, educators, and school administrators.

Multiple stakeholders took part in the hearing, including Keith Willard, a secondary social studies teacher; parents Darren Lausten and Kate Nazemi; Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center Pennsylvania; and Sarah DeMaria, President-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. Other participants included Senator Wayne Fontana, Senator Tim Kearney, and several Representatives from various districts.

The Senate Bill 926 and House Bill 1506 are significant steps towards ensuring freedom of expression and diversity in literature, providing a more inclusive environment for learning and growth.

For the latest news on everything happening in Chester County and the surrounding area, be sure to follow MyChesCo on Google News.