Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a bill prohibiting book bans in the state's public libraries on June 12, 2023.

(Photo: @GovPritzker/Twitter)

Rebuking Censorship Wave, Illinois Becomes First US State to Prohibit Book Bans

"At a time when some other states are fanning the flames of racism and LGBTQ+ hate," said one education advocate, "we're proud that Illinois has once again taken a stand for what is right."

Free expression advocates this week are applauding Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signing a first-in-the-nation law that prohibits book bans at public libraries—a move that the Democratic governor said was a matter of resisting "a dangerous strain of white nationalism" that's behind a nationwide push to restrict access to books about people of color and LGBTQ+ communities.

The law (H.B. 2789) was signed Monday and will go into effect on January 1, 2024, barring public libraries from accessing state grants unless they adopt the American Library Association's (ALA) Library Bill of Rights, which states that materials must not be proscribed or removed from a library "because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval."

"We're showing everyone what it looks like to stand up for liberty. As simple as that," said Pritzker on social media after signing the bill. "Because what these book bans in libraries really are about is censorship—marginalizing people, ideas, and facts."

As Common Dreams reported in March, book bans and "challenges" surged to an all-time high in the U.S. in 2022, with the ALA reporting that 2,571 unique titles were named as books that should be removed from library shelves—a 38% increase from the previous year.

A separate report by PEN America found last September that 40% of challenged books had LGBTQ+ themes or characters, and 21% addressed "issues of race and racism."

States including Florida, Missouri, and Utah have imposed new laws prohibiting certain content in books, specifying how they can be accessed, and threatening punishment for librarians who provide children access to books that are deemed "harmful."

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is running for president in 2024, has also expanded efforts to control what public school students learn, banning classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ issues and race relations in schools.

"Here in Illinois, we don't hide from the truth, we embrace it," Pritzker said Monday as he signed H.B. 2789. "Young people shouldn't be kept from learning about the realities of our world; I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome."

PEN America noted on Thursday that as Pritzker was signing the law, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was signing a bill that will give his administration "near full oversight in what books are in schools," with books deemed "sexually explicit" banned and booksellers required to place ratings on materials.

"There are few perils to our democracy as dangerous as book bans," said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "At a time when some other states are fanning the flames of racism and LGBTQ+ hate, we're proud that Illinois has once again taken a stand for what is right."

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