“Free Speech Under Attack”: The House Spotlights Book Banning and Academic Censorship

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell (1963)

Tomorrow (April 7), my favorite legislator will swing into action to breathe new life into the First Amendment.

Former Constitutional Law Professor and Constitution devotee Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, will begin hearings to expose and investigate the nationwide attempts to throttle free speech in schools and public libraries.

Anyone who’s so inclined can view the proceedings live on YouTube on April 7 at 10 am ET. With luck, if you click on this link, you’ll be able to watch it at that time.

Otherwise, I’m sure there will be excerpts available later on C-SPAN and elsewhere.

The Subcommittee statement describes the need:

“Book challenges and bans are rising at unprecedented rates, with ideologically motivated organizations and legislators in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, and other states leading campaigns to remove books from schools and public libraries.  In 2021, the American Library Association (ALA) recorded 729 challenges to remove nearly 1,600 books from school and public libraries—the highest number of attempted book bans in the 20 years that the ALA has tracked this data.  Meanwhile, some school administrators are preemptively removing library books out of fear.”

The Committee hearings will provide a platform for affected Americans to tell their stories and make the dangers of the censorship real and relevant. Witnesses appearing before the Committee will include several high school students, a teacher, a librarian, a parent, and civil rights activist Ruby Bridges.

Bridges, who bravely desegregated a Louisiana elementary school at age 6(!), became a cultural icon through the Norman Rockwell painting titled The Problem We All Live With (1963, featured above), which shows the young child being protected by federal marshals.

Both Bridges and the books she’s written about her experiences have won numerous awards. But her 2009 autobiography, Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, has recently been attacked as evidence of that fear-mongering bugaboo “CRT”–critical race theory.

The hearings were the subject of an April 4 Washington Post opinion piece titled: “Democrats must hit back hard at GOP book bans. Here’s a start.”

Calling governmental attention to the growing trend “a void to be filled,” the authors note that many of these book banning attempts are in Republican-controlled state legislatures where they won’t get national debate.

“Of course, there’s a risk that congressional Republicans will seek to turn the hearing into another circus. Republican staffers will no doubt scour the shelves for the most outrageous passages they can find, so their bosses can read them aloud, express shock and dismay — and get their canned outrage played in clips on Fox News.

“But the majority of Americans who want their communities’ schools and libraries to include a variety of materials, even challenging and provocative ones, don’t really have anyone speaking to their values and aspirations. Indeed, this is the case even as Republicans speak very loudly to those on their side of these arguments. (emphasis mine)

“Can a hearing like this show another way forward for Democrats? One has to hope so.”

The government must hear from those of us in the majority.

A citizens action group is having a read-in tomorrow night to coincide with the opening of the hearings. Here’s a link to “A Book Ban-Busters Read-In.”

The voices for censorship are loud. The voices for freedom to read are more prevalent, but not as loud. Let’s raise our voices, shall we?

Annie

20 thoughts on ““Free Speech Under Attack”: The House Spotlights Book Banning and Academic Censorship

  1. You’re very welcome, Susie.

    Tomorrow is just the start of the hearings, but our efforts must be ongoing. We need to let our elected officials on all levels of govt know that book banning is unAmerican and must stop!

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  2. Jamie Raskin is one of my favorites, too, and this is a good example why. He just steps up to the issues and does the work.This country owes him.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. For sure, Denise!

      His book is extraordinary, though terribly sad. I had the fortunate misfortune of the audio being a casualty of my new iPhone, which has caused minor chaos. The book survives, though it moved me back to the beginning. I know I can advance it—I was halfway through—but I’m pleased to be traveling with him once again.

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  3. I suggest a ban on bans (including the bans of matrimony). On second thought, scratch the latter — I might be banned from the house, and then who would cook my meals and wash my clothes? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My local library (in Merrick, NY) recently set up a “banned books” table. The table is topped with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Catch 22,” “Beloved,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and other classics. What a horror, in a country that allegedly promotes free speech, that some states have put these gripping and educational times on the verboten list.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Gail.
      Alas, it has been ever so; it’s the numbers, intensity, and support from elected officials that make this a defining issue in our shaky democracy now.

      This is National Library Week; that’s probably why your local library had that display. Librarians are First Amendment stalwarts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How concerning Annie. I’ve never hear of any movement here to ban books, but maybe I’m out of the loop? I’m sure the library/school boards must decide what to order/stock but I’ve never heard a peek from anyone about it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s true. We do have a right wing fraction, witness the truck convoy in Ottawa, but it’s not as large or as obvious and they care nothing about banning books, only about mask wearing!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I was going to say that Annie, but I wanted to be tactful. I think the police underestimated the tenacity of the truckers and expected them to move out after a few days, like polite Canadians do, and then the tow truck operators were afraid to get involved and upset the truckers, and it just snowballed from there. I live near a border city and the US trucks were blocked at the border for a few days, at both bridges and that made everyone mad. Now, nary a peep. Of course they got rid of the mask mandate, so they think they won, but they had already announced that would be lifting with the warm weather anyway. I still wear my mask, as do most older people, but the younger ones do not.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I appreciate your tact, Joni, but it’s not necessary, and I think it’s good for us to share our perspectives.
        Some US truckers tried to stage similar shenanigans here, intending to end up in Washington, DC. Their efforts seem to have fizzled, fortunately. But there are plenty of bad actors out there.

        I still wear a mask inside public places too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Always a really worrying trend to read about. It always strikes me as a sign of defeat on behalf of the wannabe banners – unable to argue academically against the content or argue the point to prospective readers. When we have a look at some of the previously banned titles as well – some absolute classics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s helpful to view book banning as a sign of defeat. I agree. I think/hope that all the noisy actions the radical right is taking now are the frantic flailings of a dying minority. But they can and are doing a great deal of damage before we get past this point in our history.
      As always, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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      1. Inevitably! After a Tennessee school board banned MAUS, a novelistic treatment of the Holocaust several months ago, it returned to the best seller lists years after its publication. There are Banned Books readings throughout the US.

        Liked by 1 person

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