Illinois has become the first US state to prohibit banning books in public libraries. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed HB 2789 into law in a public library in Chicago, amid a dramatic nationwide increase in book bans. The governor, a Democrat, called them an affront to free speech.
“Young people shouldn’t be kept from learning about the realities of our world,” Pritzker said at a press conference. “I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome.”
The new law was spearheaded by Illinois secretary of state Alexi Giannoulias, who also serves as state librarian. It mandates that public libraries can only access state funds if they agree to adopt the Library Bill of Rights—written by the American Library Association (ALA)—which prevents materials from being removed “because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
Critics of the law, which takes effect in January 2024, say they’re trying to stop their children from being exposed to sexually explicit material.
“They call us book banners, but we’re not banning books,” Terry Newsome told a local ABC affiliate. “We want to ban pornographic books. Heterosexual or homosexual, it doesn’t belong in the school.” Newsome is a parent who called for a school ban of Gender Queer—a memoir containing sexual drawings—in the northern Illinois town of Downers Grove.
The Illinois law comes as several states, including Florida, Missouri, and Utah, have made it easier for parents to get books removed from libraries.
The ALA, which is based in Chicago, said 2,571 titles were targeted for censorship in US state and school libraries last year. It also noted that books by writers from marginalized communities were disproportionately selected, with acclaimed authors like Toni Morrison and Sherman Alexie becoming frequent targets.