A memo from Pennsylvania Senator Amanda M. Cappelletti sent to members of the state Senate promises a bill to tackle book bans in the next legislative year, 2023-2024, putting Pennsylvania among states like Illinois, New York, and New Jersey who have sought to do the same.
Cappelletti’s bill mirrors that of Illinois’s, the first to successfully pass in any US state. It would require libraries which receive state funding to include as part of their policies that they follow the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights or that they develop their own language around preserving the right to read for all.
“The idea of banning books is a direct contradiction to First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press, integral elements of democracy. Americans have a right to explore and engage with differing perspectives to form their own views. Public libraries are places where young people should be able to learn about themselves and people who are different from them, not denied access to the diverse perspectives that books and art offer us all,” reads the memo that went out July 10, 2023.
This year’s legislative session has come to a close, but this proactive move might help in the ceaseless efforts of groups like Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, and others who have turned schools and libraries across the Keystone State into partisan battlegrounds. PEN America reported 27 book bans across the state during the 2022-2023 school year in their last report from April 2023. This puts it among the states with the highest number of bans.
The 2023-2023 school year saw schools like Central York remove books from schools–complete with student protests–as well as book bans in Central Bucks schools, Penn Crest, and more. Public libraries in the state have also had their fair share of book censorship attempts and threats to cut funding to institutions that don’t reflect “conservative values.”
No Left Turn in Eduction was founded in the Lower Merion, Pennsylvania area and their influence is felt throughout the state. No Left Turn is among the most notorious advocates for censorship across the country. They work with groups elsewhere in the US, developing reviews and lists of books they’d like to see removed and distribute them through sites like Rated Books, Stop School Porn, Mary in the Library, and more. Though they are different from Moms for Liberty, the two groups work toward similar goals and many consider themselves members of both groups.
Cappelletti’s district includes Lower Merion.
Though the bill will not end the work of such groups, it is one step lawmakers can take to help reemphasize the First Amendment Rights granted to all within the state. These bills further bolster the role libraries play to communities, and the lawmakers behind them acknowledge that defending the library is not only the right thing to do, it reflects the opinion of the majority.
“This is not a partisan issue. Polling conducted by bipartisan research firms in 2022 showed that voters across the political spectrum oppose book bans and have confidence in libraries to make good decisions about their collections,” explained Cappelletti.
Because the bill will not be proposed until the next legislative session in January, residents are encouraged to contact their representatives regularly to encourage support of this move. You can find your state senators and house representatives here. Writing directly to Cappelletti is also important: let her know you support this potential bill and want banning book bans codified.