Delaware, Connecticut Legislators Propose Anti-Book Ban Measures

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Two more states have joined the ranks of at least nine others in proposing legislation that would curtail the spread of book bans. While the bills in Delaware and Connecticut look quite different, their aims are not.

In Delaware, HB 299–the Delaware Libraries for All Act–would strengthen the right to read by designating libraries as a place of public accommodation. This would put libraries under Delaware’s Equal Accommodations Law. The Delaware Library Consortium would then need to develop and adapt policies which define equitable access and the right to read for all state residents.

“That would make sure that we could not be inundated with all kinds of bans on materials in the libraries that we have been seeing all over the country because we would be considered a place of public accommodation,” said Kay Bowes, president of the Friends of Delaware Libraries in an interview with Delaware Public Radio. “So there could be no banning or very little.”

The bill was sponsored by House Member Cyndie Romer, with cosponsorship from Senator Laura V. Sturgeon, Senator Marie Pinkney, Representative Valerie Longhurst, Representative Paul S. Baumbach, Senator Kyra Hoffner, and Representative Nnamdi O. Chukwuocha.

The American Library Association recorded 0 attempts to restrict access to books in Delaware between January and August 2023 alone, with 0 book titles challenged. PEN America likewise recorded 0 book bans in school districts during the 2022-2023 school year. As positive as it is to see zeros for both of these counts, they likely do not represent reality–book bans are happening and not being reported and/or the counts like these never include rampant silent censorship bills like this aim to lessen.

HB 299 will be heard today, Tuesday, March 12, in the Delaware House Economic Development/Banking/Insurance & Commerce Committee.

Heading north, Connecticut’s House Bill 5417 focuses solely on schools and what entities do and do not have the right to ban materials within those institutions. It is sponsored by Representative Christopher Rosario and Susan Johnson.

The bill would restrict school boards across the state from banning materials for the following reasons:

(1) Partisan approval or disapproval of any library material by the board;
(2) An author’s race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation or political or religious views;
(3) Personal discomfort, morality or political or religious views of a member or members of the board;
(4) An author’s points of view concerning current events, whether international, national or local;
(5) The race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation or political or religious views of a protagonist or other characters or as otherwise represented in the library material; or
(6) The content of the library material is related to sexual health and addresses physical, mental, emotional or social dimensions of human sexuality, including, but not limited to, puberty, sex and relationships.

If books were to be removed from classrooms or school libraries, the local and regional school board would be responsible for publicly stating their reason for the decision.

HB 5417 was first heard before the General Assembly’s Education Committee on Monday, March 11. The conversation landed along partisan lines, emphasizing yet again that party approval means more than the actual rights of students, parents, and community members.

At the public meeting, eighth grader Louis Haberlandt argued in favor of the bill. Haberlandt discussed the powerful effect The Hate U Give had on him.

“Controversial books like these help me and many of my peers learn and develop new thoughts,” he said.

Arguments against the bill centered destruction of so-called “local control” and worries about the motives behind “unelected school librarians.” In other words, if school boards could no longer pull any book they disagreed with based on ideology, then the power of the district’s governing body diminishes. The bill does not remove the right for districts to remove books, though. Indeed, they can. Those removals just cannot be due to discriminatory reasons–like those laid out in employment law across the country–and the public needs to be told why.

“[T]his bill would tip the balance of power over the debate about public school books to unelected and unaccountable school media specialists,” wrote Leslie Wolfgang, director of public policy for the conservative Family Institute of Connecticut, who complained school librarians are not neutral.

The “unelected school librarians” argument falls squarely into the reality that people do not understand nor care to understand the expertise, experience, nor profession of librarianship. Of course they’re not neutral. They’re experts.

The American Library Association recorded 14 attempts to restrict access to books in Delaware between January and August 2023 alone, with 109 book titles challenged. PEN America recorded 0 book bans in school districts during the 2022-2023 school year. The disparity between the two numbers here is concerning. It suggests that many of the attempts at book banning are not being covered by the news or whistleblowers in the state. It also points to silent censorship. Indeed, in Connecticut over the last year, Sandy Hook School District, Westport Public Schools, Brookfield Public Schools, Guilford Public Schools, Milford School District, and others have reported attempted and successful book bans.

If you’re a resident in Delaware or Connecticut, contact your representatives in support of these bills.

An update on legislative proposals in other US states will be provided in this week’s Literary Activism/Book Censorship News post.