WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Book Bans: How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature.”
In 2022, activists submitted more than 1,000 requests to ban books at public schools and libraries—the highest number of requests submitted to ban books in over twenty years. This hearing will examine the history of book bans in the United States, the recent push by a small group of zealots to bring back book bans to limit access to a broad range of subject matters, and the limitations that book bans impose on liberty through literature.
“In the 1850s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a classic anti-slavery novel, was banned throughout the southern United States.”
“Two decades later, in 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Act, a law that mandated up to five years in prison for any person who sold or distributed a book that was, ‘obscene, lewd, or lascivious.’ The law did not define these terms, and hundreds of Americans were convicted for distributing books about topics such as atheism and reproductive health.”
“… this Committee itself held a series of hearings in 1954 to examine the threat that comic books like Superman posed to children. The anti-comics panic culminated in the industry’s ‘Comics Code’ that censored comic books for decades.”
“That may seem absurd now, but extremists continue to fight to ban popular graphic novels like Maus and other books. In 2022, there were over 1,000 requests to ban books at public schools and libraries—the most in over 20 years.”
“Let’s be clear, efforts to ban books are wrong, whether they come from the right or the left. When we ban books like Maus or To Kill a Mockingbird in the name of protecting students, we are instead denying those students the opportunity to learn about difficult topics.”
“Limiting access to a book about antisemitism or racism does not protect students from our history or the reality that hate still exists.”
“In the name of protecting students, politicians have also targeted books that include LGBTQ+ subject matter. One out of every four banned books features LGBTQ+ characters and themes, according to PEN America.”
“I understand and respect that parents may choose to limit what their children read, especially at a younger age. But no parent should have the right to tell another parent’s child what they can and cannot read in school or at home. Every student deserves access to books that reflect their experiences and help them better understand who they are.”
“I want to commend Senator Cornyn, who said last year, ‘As a general rule, I don’t favor banning age-appropriate and subject-appropriate books for children. They need to hear a diversity of views.’ That’s exactly right. Unfortunately, librarians and teachers across this country who are just doing their jobs have been threatened with physical violence and criminal prosecution by a small group of zealots.”
“These efforts to ban books violate our most cherished principles as Americans and betray our values as a nation. We must protect our students and their freedom to read and learn.”
Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.