Censored Voices: Book Bans Unparalleled on National and State Fronts

America has a history of censoring viewpoints that diverge from the mainstream. Book banning is a practice that has been employed throughout American history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to now, but “efforts to ban books nearly doubled in 2022 over the previous year” according to the American Library Association (NYT).

Banning books is a form of censorship, usually led today by parent groups or administrations, that attempts to restrict student access to certain books available in public schools and libraries because the books cover supposedly inappropriate topics. Theoretically, book censorship in schools isn’t constitutional. In 1982, a coalition of New York students sued their school board for removing certain books. In response to this case, the Supreme Court ruled that “local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books” in Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, citing students’ First Amendment rights.” (National Geographic) 

Despite this verdict, PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the right to free speech, found that “between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, alone, there were 1,586 book bans [] across 26 states—affecting more than two million students,” (National Geographic). 1,586 is a staggering number, especially against books in schools, many targeted because of content on topics such as LGBTQIA+ identity or racism and race. This statistic illustrates the pressing nature of how book bans are overtaking culture and ignoring students’ constitutional rights.

Banning books that discuss issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class denies students’ identities, and it completely ignores the struggles that many marginalized groups have faced to gain representation in the first place. This representation is now being made inaccessible to students by school boards and parents, who believe that real-world ideas are something that students should not gain exposure to at young ages. Through book censorship, schools restrict students to only pre-approved, sanitized versions of reality, mirroring a standard many lives do not conform to. Even though some organizations would prefer to silence any mention of these topics, they affect many lives and remain the cornerstones of necessary conversation to surpass the decades-long discrimination we have institutionalized in this country.

In the United States, thousands of books have had complaints filed against them, with several censored. The number one banned book is Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, “a graphic memoir that follows Kobabe’s journey into exploring their own gender and queer identity” (NPR). Though not removed in Frisco ISD and available in the Frisco Public Library, this book has faced many attempted bans in multiple Texas school districts. Other singled-out books include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, many of which with themes of racial and LGBTQIA+ identity (CBS). Of which, the latter two faced formal reconsideration for containing obscene content in Frisco ISD but remained unremoved.

While book banning is a pervasive issue nationwide, it has had extensive repercussions for our community particularly. Texas is the primary leader in book banning in school libraries, with “801 books [banned] across 22 school districts” (Texas Tribune). As previously stated, Texas follows national trends by having the most challenges raised against books that focus on topics such as LGBTQIA+ rights, racism, and sexual content. With these trends in book bans, Frisco ISD undertook a library review project, adjusting the availability for 359 books depending on reasons including “being reviewed for an older age group, having insufficient reviews, not being age appropriate based on an individual review of the title, not aligning with our curriculum, or containing obscene content” (Frisco ISD), following state decisions and ultimately indicating that students do not have the liberty to choose the media that they consume.

Not all book bans are wrong. In fact, some, such as age restrictions in terms of pornographic or profane content, may be necessary. The issue isn’t specifically book bans, but rather the concerning spike over the past few years and the reasons behind this censorship.  Yes, some books should not be available to all age levels if they contain genuinely inappropriate content, such as profanity, pornographic material, and whatnot. However, many book bans extend further than this, discriminating against books that only attempt to represent those who have not been for too long.

Historically, many groups have implemented book censorship, usually in a weak attempt to “protect” the minds of those subject to the limitations. The United States, a country that claims to promote diversity of thought and freedom of speech, needs to allow schools, foundations of societal beliefs, to possess a variety of ideas in the form of books.

Works Cited

Book Bans in the United States Threaten Free Speech.” The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/04/20/books/book-bans-united-states-free-speech.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.

“The History of Book Bans and Their Changing Targets in the US.” National Geographic, 2022, www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/history-and-civilisation/2022/09/the-history-of-book-bans-and-their-changing-targets-in-the-us.

“Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools.” PEN America, www.pen.org/report/banned-in-the-usa-state-laws-supercharge-book-suppression-in-schools/.

“Texas Book Bans.” Texas Tribune, 19 Sept. 2022, www.texastribune.org/2022/09/19/texas-book-bans/.

“War of Words: The Fight Over Banning Books.” CBS News, www.cbsnews.com/news/war-of-words-the-fight-over-banning-books/.

“The 50 Most Banned Books in America.” CBS News, www.cbsnews.com/pictures/the-50-most-banned-books-in-america/.

“Library Collection Review Project.” Frisco Independent School District, www.friscoisd.org/departments/library-media-services/library-collection-review-project.