Books are being taken off the shelves at an alarming rate in public school libraries nationwide.
PEN America, a nonprofit advocacy group, reported to The Washington Post that 1,586 books were banned last school year, including original publications and adaptations. The removal included 1,145 unique books by more than 800 original authors.
Forty-one percent featured prominent characters who are people of color. In addition, 33% of the banned books included LGBTQ themes, while 22% “directly address issues of race and racism.”
In Pennsylvania, for example, school librarians were made to remove titles such as In My Mosque, which teaches children about Islam, A Place Inside of Me, an exploration of a young Black student’s response to a police shooting, and When Aiden Became a Brother, a story of a transgender boy.
In Keller, Texas, the school year opened with fewer books in school libraries. The Keller Independent School District removed all of the books that parents and students challenged one day before school started. Titles included The Bible, The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison, and a novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s The Diary of the Young Girl.
Most of the challenges across the country are coming from conservative Christians. In the Texas case, a newly elected school board said the reason for the book removal was the Texas Education Agency’s policy released last April. TEA’s policy is the result of the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott directing the agency to develop a statewide standard.
The Keller ISD school board has three new members whose campaigns were supported by Patriot Mobile, a Texas-based cell phone company that donates a portion of its customers’ phone bills to “Christian” causes. The group’s political action committee, Patriot Mobile Action, raised over $500,000 for the Keller ISD candidates and others in Tarrant County.
Keller High School senior Cameron Munn told the school board this week, “The fact is that marginalized students in Keller ISD feel attacked by the school board. Something you all don’t seem to understand is that this basic censorship is much more than politics; this is about lives.”
This latest book banning trend follows laws passed by Republican-led state legislatures across the country. PEN America reported a 250% increase of “educational gag orders” introduced by state legislatures. The term “gag order” is defined as “efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K–12 and higher education.” In 2021, 54 gag order bills were enacted in 22 states.
All of these laws restrict teachers from discussing racism, sexism and human sexuality. In some states, like Florida, teachers are not even allowed to talk about issues such as gender identity and sexuality with students in grades K-3. The bill has been called the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Therefore, with all these attacks on teachers, librarians and public schools, thoughtful people of faith must ask, “What’s behind this latest attempt to restrict education and ban books?” Simply put, Christian Nationalism.
One goal of Christian Nationalists is to take over the country by electing their candidates – or, as was the case on Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to keep their candidates’ in office by violent force. They would then rule the country by using their narrow, rigid and incorrect interpretation of the Bible.
Christian Nationalists deny the reality of systemic racism and the rights of LGBTQ+ people. They contend that racism is a thing of the past, and that the Bible is clear about sexual orientation and identity.
Both views are false. The truth is that the Bible, especially the life and teachings of Jesus, decried systematic racism and practiced a faith that was both justice-centered and inclusive.
Unfortunately, facts and truth do not matter to Christian Nationalists. The only thing that matters to them is power and control.
They seek to gain power by any means necessary and to control others with their heretical beliefs. Book banning is an extension of their quest for power and control.
Ironically, many Christian Nationalists profess that they support small and limited government with as few regulations as possible. However, the reality seems to be that they want a large and expansive government that exercises strict control – but only when politicians who adhere to their ideology are in power.
People of good faith need to stand up, speak out and step forward in opposing Christian Nationalism and the attempt to ban books.
Under the guise of “parental choice,” many are claiming that they should have an exclusive say on what their children learn in school. While I agree with the sentiment of more parental involvement, I disagree that parents are the final authority on what are deemed appropriate topics for learning.
Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all — except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.”
Kennedy was right. If democracy has a future in the United States, then the country needs students reading and exploring more provocative books — not fewer.
As Rabbi Jack Moline observed, “If education does not upset you, if it does not challenge you, if it does not confuse you, if it does not occasionally offend you, then it is not education. It is indoctrination.”
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, warned that the greatest threat to democracy was an uninformed citizenry. An uninformed and poorly educated citizenry is exactly what Christian Nationalists hope will happen. The more uneducated and uninformed society becomes, the greater the possibility of conquest and control. People of good faith must stop this from happening.
Finally, I want to draw attention to the wise words of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who denounced censorship, saying, “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go to your library and read every book.”
Yes, sir, Mr. President, I’m on my way! May others follow.
CEO of Good Faith Media.