HARRISBURG, PA − October 6, 2023 – State Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks), chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and state Rep. Ryan Bizarro (D-Erie), chair of the House Majority Policy Committee, joined Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery/Delaware) and Rep. Paul Friel (D-Chester) to co-host a public hearing in Harrisburg yesterday on the impact of censorship and book bans in public and school libraries.
The hearing, held at the State Capitol, featured three panels of testimony that included perspectives from educators, parents, and policy experts who discussed the rise in book bans across the Commonwealth and the country.
“Book bans are part of a fear mongering, hate-filled, discriminatory, national political agenda that is taking aim at our public schools and libraries across the nation and here in our Commonwealth. All students – no matter what they look like, how they identify, where they are from, or who they love – deserve to see themselves or discover themselves in stories told in books – and book bans strip that freedom away,” Muth said. “Book bans and censorship are part of a greater movement to whitewash history and silence already marginalized and minority communities – and we need our all elected officials to stand up for free speech and protect all of our children from any attack that threatens their ability to thrive and be who they are.”
The American Library Association documented the highest number of attempted book bans last year since it began compiling data more than 20 years ago. Pennsylvania ranks among the worst states in book banning efforts, where there were 56 attempts to ban 302 unique titles. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
“It’s important to shine a light on the pervasiveness of book bans in the Commonwealth so we can all speak out against them. Book banning is largely unpopular, and parents already have the right to opt their child out of reading materials at school,” Cappelletti said. “By banning a book in a certain library, school district, or school classroom, we are putting our entire community at a disadvantage. The freedom to read is vitally important, and we need to be fostering literacy and encouraging reading books by authors of all different backgrounds. When we learn from others, we are all better off.”
Senator Cappelletti recently introduced Senate Bill 926, which is currently in the Senate Education Committee. This bill would require Pennsylvania’s State Librarian and local libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which states that materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. It would also require that they develop a written statement that prohibits the local library from banning books or other materials. Libraries that do not comply would be ineligible for state funding under Senate Bill 926.
“Parents absolutely have the right to determine what is appropriate for their child,” Friel said. “They just do not have the right to determine what is appropriate for everybody else’s child.”
Rep. Friel recently introduced House Bill 1506, the Freedom to Read Act. House Bill 1506, now in the House Education Committee, would provide a more uniform and efficient process for appeals challenging books and other educational materials by placing the responsibility for those reviews with a regional committee of instructional experts that would include librarians, educators, and school administrators.
Participants in the hearing included Keith Willard, Secondary Social Studies Teacher, Central Bucks School District; Darren Lausten, parent, Pennridge School District; Kate Nazemi, parent, Central Bucks School District; Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director, Education Law Center Pennsylvania; and Sarah DeMaria, President-elect, Pennsylvania School Library Association.
Senator Wayne Fontana, Senator Tim Kearney, Rep. Melissa Shusterman, Rep. Darisha Parker, Rep. Abigail Salisburg, Rep. Tarik Khan, and Rep. Tarah Probst also participated in the hearing.
All submitted testimony from the policy hearing and the full video is available at SenatorMuth.com/Policy. The website also includes a form for anyone that wishes to submit any comments on the topics discussed at the hearing.
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Panel 1: Educators
Panel 2: Parents
- Darren Lausten, Parent – Pennridge School District
- Kate Nazemi, Parent – Central Bucks School District
Panel 3: Policy Solutions