New Jersey’s democratic senators proposed new legislation May 22 which would ban book bans from public schools and libraries across the state. The bill, drafted by senators Andrew Zwicker and Teresa Ruiz, alongside Assemblywoman Mila Jasey was inspired by librarian Martha Hickson, who has been at the center of several attempted book bans and who was awarded the prestigious Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity last year.
The bill mirrors one that passed in Illinois, which ties library funding to language in a library’s policy about upholding the Library Bill of Rights and intellectual freedom. All public schools and libraries who receive state funding would need to articulate that materials provided showcase a range of perspectives and stories and that books cannot be removed based on opinion, partisan politics, or disagreement.
“This is about not allowing intolerance and hatred to be infused into our libraries at all,” Zwicker said to the New Jersey Monitor. “Ideas are there to be debated and to be discussed. And sometimes ideas make us uncomfortable, but that uncomfortableness doesn’t mean that we should ban things. We should talk more about them.”
New Jersey has seen several book bans over the last two years, including challenges at Hickson’s library and others. Roxbury High School Librarian Roxana Russo Caivano sued several residents who defamed her due to material in her collection, calling her everything from a predator to a pornography dealer. The Upside of Unrequited was removed from Sparta Middle School following complaints over its LGBTQ+ content and a sociology textbook was rejected in the Bernard school district for not being “balanced” over issues of Antifa and the Michael Brown murder.
The Right to Read bill counters bills proposed by the state’s republican party last legislative session which would require public schools to share lists of every book within the building and one that would require public school curriculum, textbooks, and material to be made available for parental inspection. Neither bill passed.
New Jersey is the fourth state to propose anti-book ban legislation this year, following Illinois, New York, and Connecticut. If you live in New Jersey, now is the time to write to your senators in support of this bill. Details and full text of the bill will emerge over the coming week, as it was just announced.