Illinois signs law preventing book bans: ‘Regimes ban books, not democracies’

Illinois has become the first state in the US to introduce a law to prevent book bans.

The state’s Democratic governor, J. B. Pritzker, enacted the bill on Monday (12 June) that will see public libraries be ineligible for public funding if they restrict access to materials “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval”.

It is set to come into effect from 1 January, 2024. Senators voted 39-19 in favour of the legislation last month before it was sent to Pritzker to sign into law.

In a post on social media, Pritzker said Illinois was “showing everyone what it looks like to stand up for liberty”, by enacting the bill.

“I want our children to learn our history, warts and all. Read as much as you can. Read different perspectives. Read challenging ideas.”

In a speech ahead of the signing, which was shared online by local media outlet Heartland Signal, Pritzker highlighted that many people argue for book bans on the basis that “it’s about protecting children”.

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The governor said: “Of course we all want to protect our children so they’re reading age-appropriate material, but banning books isn’t about that at all.

“Book bans are about censorship, marginalising people, marginalising ideas and facts. Regimes ban books, not democracies.”

Pritzker pointed out that there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois last year, with most being about “coming of age, mental health, LGBTQ+ kids and teens, the Black experience and racism”.

Titles of books people sought to ban included renowned classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, he said.

Pritzker said he refused to let a “dangerous strain of white nationalism coursing through our country determine whose histories are told”.

The Associated Press reported Illinois secretary of state and state librarian, Alexi Giannoulias, as saying this did not mean that every book should be in every library.

This law says: let’s trust our experience and education of our librarians to decide what books should be in circulation,” he explained.

House minority leader Tony McCombie, who voted against the law, was reported as saying in an emailed statement that the Republican caucus in the state House of Representatives did not believe in banning books, “but we do believe that the content of books should be considered in their placement on the shelves”.