Chapters Battle Book Bans

Different States, Different Laws


By Alison Laurio

lock and chain around books

From “Green Eggs and Ham” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to books like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Gone With the Wind,” many people have favorite titles they remember from their youth and high school days.

Now, mainly conservative-led restrictions on students’ access to some books in school libraries have rallied students and parents to decry those limits, or to praise them. But like many other issues, the number and breadth of the bans depend on where you live.

Missouri Chapter

Slaughterhouse Five

NASW Missouri Executive Director Cassie Brown considers book bans “especially offensive."

“I was raised with a passion for books and a sense of libraries as a sacred place where everyone gets equal access and opportunities to learn—because they are free, no matter your circumstances.”

The statewide bans in Missouri were first enacted in 2022 in an “innocuous law passed to protect victims of sexual assault,” she said. SB 775 passed as a Class A misdemeanor “for librarians or teachers to provide ‘explicit sexual material’ to a student.,” Brown said. “It is sweeping, applying to any ‘visual depiction’ of sexuality, beyond something with significant artistic value, which it does not define. So lots of books got pulled under this book ban, including graphic adaptations of the classics “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Slaughterhouse-Five.” It’s really scary. Librarians can get up to a year in prison for even having books in their collections.”

A second, broader law became effective in May 2023, which was created by “a rule established by the secretary of state through his office’s control of the Public Library System and its funds,” Brown said. That rule states it is designed to prevent youth from accessing “obscene” materials at public libraries. All parents or guardians must sign forms in advance, to give their kids full-access library cards or they cannot check out books on their own.

Libraries also are required to have a written policy saying what materials and events are “age-appropriate,” keep inappropriate materials and displays out of places intended for minors, and post whether presentations are suitable for some or all age groups, she said.

“It allows any parent or guardian within a district to challenge its library’s definitions,” Brown said. “This has had a chilling effect on libraries, as it is very burdensome and libraries have struggled to define what is ‘obscene.’ That’s the purpose of the law. That’s how this type of book ban works. The most conservative voice in a community can silence everyone else’s.”

The bans cover public libraries and schools, “and many public schools are creating their own bans, which are being challenged by groups like the ACLU and the Missouri Library Association,” she said.

Brown said many classics, or their visual interpretations, have been placed where students can’t access them in school libraries, “but in public libraries, books like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” have been pulled. Many LGBTQ+ books have been lost to the ban.”

Members are upset and have expressed disappointment and anger at the bans and censorship across the state, Brown said. “They know that many of these bans are designed to keep books about BIPOC people, women’s issues, and especially LGBTQ+ people out of the hands of minors and even adults."

“In open retaliation, when creating the 2023 Missouri state budget, the House stripped all funding for public libraries—$4.5 million—from the budget despite the fact the state constitution requires funding of state libraries,” she said. “NASW-Missouri works hard on policies including budgets, advocating for library funding. This was unconstitutional and wrong.”

The state Senate restored all funding and that measure passed, Brown said. “NASW-Missouri advocates actively against the kinds of book bans and changes in public education that restrict access. Librarians are on the front lines, working to keep access to resources, especially in our rural areas, for things like internet and community classes. For many rural folks, the public library might be their only access to internet. Librarians and social workers both are fighting for access to these basic resources for our state.”

Texas Chapter

And Tango Makes Three

In Texas, book bans are happening more at the local level, led by school boards and school libraries, said Will Francis, executive director of NASW-Texas.

The bans “come from our education spaces,” he said.

Francis said Texas is huge and there isn’t just one person or group pushing the book bans.

“It’s a grassroots movement pushed by groups, often conservative and often conservative faith groups,” he said. “We had a law if a parent has a complaint about a book, it has to be reviewed."

“If you allow one person to make complaints, one parent or one group can dictate to the whole community. One of the things it’s done is allow narrow minds to restrict access to everyone, allow a few to use power to dictate to others,” he said. “There are 1,200 school districts and more than 9,000 campuses. A hundred miles west, it can be very different.”

In July 2023, the state legislature passed a bill known as the Reader Act, Francis said. It bans books from school libraries that contain sexually explicit material. That was defined as anything that includes descriptions, illustrations or audio depicting sexual conduct not relevant to required school curriculum. It requires “sexually explicit” books to be removed from school libraries and “sexually relevant” books to become part of a new ratings system and require parental consent for students to read them.

Francis said booksellers now are required to rate and review the books they’re selling, and he mentioned a book titled “And Tango Makes Three,” about penguins. “If it’s rated the way Texas doesn’t find acceptable, they can’t sell the book in Texas.”

The chapter is “working with other organizations to get some advocacy going,” Francis said. “We’re more allies on this. We get information out to members and are encouraging social workers to run for school boards and get involved in schools. We’re engaging in grassroots advocacy.”

Florida Chapter

Looking for Alaska

NASW-Florida Executive Director Dawn Brown pointed to two Florida statutes related to book bans in the state: House Bill 1467, which she said passed the state Senate in 2022, and House Bill 1069, which “tightened scrutiny around books that could be considered pornographic, harmful to minors, or describe or depict sexual activity.”

“Most of the bans in these bills cover schools and are banned based on local-level complaints,” she said. “Many members have expressed concern related to these bans. This goes against our values as social workers.”

Generally, books that were banned were written by BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ authors, or the books address race, ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity, Brown said. They include “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky; “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher; “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Mass; “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood; and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.

“Our Code of Ethics calls us to center values such as social justice and the dignity and worth of a person,” Brown said. “Banning books seeks to invalidate and erase the history and presence of our most marginalized communities.”

“While the book bans seem to center on books that address race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and other intersections of identity, the impact of not learning our collective history and lived experiences affects everyone,” she said. “The banning of books is not only counter to our values, but also against our collective humanity.”

Chapter members have advocated in various ways, she said, including the inclusion of a Banned Book Basket entered for a chapter raffle and creation of a Banned Bookmark that was “given to all participants at our annual conference.”

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