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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Advocacy groups are helping drive a rise in book bans

Various banned books on display at the centenary celebration for PEN America at the New-York Historical Society in New York, Sept. 12, 2022.

By Elizabeth A. Harris

At least 50 advocacy groups pushed to ban books during the last school year, according to a report that the free speech group PEN America released earlier this week, highlighting how challenges to reading material have become a political issue across the country.

“This is a concerted, organized, well-resourced push at censorship,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America. The effort, she said, “is ideologically motivated and politically expedient, and it needs to be understood as such in order to be confronted and addressed properly.”

Traditionally, when individual parents had concerns about books their children were reading, they would approach a teacher or librarian directly to discuss it. But today, long lists of titles deemed objectionable circulate online, bouncing from one district to the next. Elected officials, including local officeholders and governors, have staked out vocal positions on the issue, demanding that “obscene” materials and even specific titles be rooted out from school libraries. Restrictions have also come in the form of district-level policy changes and statewide legislation, the report said.

“There needs to be room for discussion of things like age appropriateness and readiness; that’s perfectly legitimate,” Nossel said. “But that’s not what this is about.”

Of the groups that have pushed to have certain books removed from schools, PEN said, Moms for Liberty has grown the fastest. Formed in 2021, it now lists more than 200 local chapters on its website, according to the report.

Those who have pushed to restrict access to reading material say that it should be up to parents to decide what books their children can access, and that they are trying to protect children from content they are not ready to confront.

PEN found that more than 1,600 book titles were banned from schools the United States from July 2021 to June 2022 — it defined a “ban” as the removal of a book or a restriction of access to it. The state with the most bans was Texas, the organization said, followed by Florida and then Pennsylvania.

Across the country, PEN said, restrictions occurred in 138 school districts, which included 5,000 individual schools and enrolled nearly 4 million students.

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