“Fight Book Bans” Act Introduced in US Congress

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.

As the US prepares to enter another year of relentless censorship attacks perpetrated against young people and their access to books in public schools and libraries, a new bill to help counteract the costs of book bans has been introduced into Congress. Developed by Representative Maxwell Frost, a Florida Democrat, the Fight Book Bans Act is not angled toward ending book bans directly. Instead, the bill would help fund the cost school districts incur while moving through the process of reviewing books which have been challenged. The legislation would allow up to $100,000 per district to go through the challenge process via the Department of Education.

The bill would appropriate $15 million over the next five years.

Book challenges are expensive, costing districts anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the number of books being challenged. In Berkeley County, South Carolina, the district spent over $6,000 in simply acquiring half of the 93 books challenged by one woman, who is a Moms For Liberty member and wife of failed Berkeley County Council candidate. Prior Lake-Savage School District in Minnesota estimates each book challenge costs the district $3,000, while Spring Branch Independent School District in Texas put a $30,000 price tag on a single book challenge–that’s materials cost and staff time.

Several other representatives backed Frost’s bill, including Pete Aguilar (D-California), Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Florida), Greg Casar (D-Florida), and Shontel Brown (D-Ohio). Additional cosponsors include by Reps. Adams (NC-12), Bera (CA-06), Blumenauer (OR-03), Bowman (NY-16), Carson (IN-07), Casten (IL-06), Castor (FL-14), Castro (TX-20), Clarke (NY-09), Frankel (FL-22), Garcia (CA-42), Goldman (NY-10), Horsford (NV-04), Ivey (MD-04), Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jacobs (CA-51), Johnson (GA-04), Khanna (CA-17), Lee (CA-12), Lee (PA-12), Moskowitz (FL-23), Norton (DC), Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Peters (CA-50), Pettersen (CO-7), Pocan (WI-02), Porter (CA-47), Pressley (MA-07), Ramirez (IL-03), Schakowsky (IL-9), Sewell (AL-07), Soto (FL-9), Stansbury (NM-01), Takano (CA-39), Thanedar (MI-13), Titus (NV-01), Tlaib (MI-12), Tokuda (HI-02), Velázquez (NY-07), Wasserman Schultz (FL-25), Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Williams (GA-05).

“Book bans in Florida and in states across the nation are a direct attack on our freedoms and liberties everywhere. As my home state shamefully leads the country in book bans, we cannot let this censorship and dismantling of our education system go unchecked,” said Frost in a press release. “What we are seeing in Florida and states like Texas, Utah, and Missouri are loud and clear attempts by far-right conservative leaders to silence and erase our Black, brown, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ communities. The Fight Book Bans Act takes a stand against censorship to firmly stand on the side of history, education, our students, teachers, and schools who don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of radical politics in the classroom. This is about protecting our libraries and protecting truth and history.”

The bill is backed by several anti-censorship and anti-discrimination groups, including PEN America, ACLU National, American Library Association, Interfaith Alliance, The Trevor Project, Catholics for Choice, Color of Change, National Urban League, UnidosUS, Equality Florida, Florida Freedom to Read Project, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), and NAACP DC.

“America is in the middle of an escalating book ban crisis that requires our full attention and a strong response,” said Congressman Jamie Raskin. “Sinister campaigns to remove books from our schools and libraries are a hallmark of authoritarian and fascist regimes. Many books are being targeted for censorship these days simply because they address the historical realities of racism and white supremacy or address LGBTQ+ issues. I’m proud to join Rep. Frost to introduce this critical legislation, which will provide much-needed resources to the freedom-loving teachers, school librarians and school administrators working to keep books on our shelves.”

Since 2022, federal panels have addressed book bans, including a Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Hearing in October of this year that included panelists representing a majority of pro-book banning members; a September 2023 U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing that included a performance by Senator John Kennedy giving a dramatic reading of Gender Queer; and a Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties meeting in spring 2022 chaired by Jamie Raskin.

Though permitting districts to access money does not end book bans itself–and indeed, might further calls from the far-right to defund the Department of Eduction (recall their ultimate goal here is to dismantle public education)–by giving districts access to vital funds, they stand a fighting chance to curtail book bans in their owwn communities.

“As a former teacher and principal, I can only imagine the struggle current school teachers and librarians must be facing when trying to educate our children in light of attempts by our state to shove right-wing propaganda down our children’s throats,” said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. “If true freedom is to prevail in Florida and beyond, we must eradicate the censorship imposed by book bans. This fight transcends politics; it’s about the future of our nation and whether we stand with censorship or champion freedom. I for one, will always champion freedom.”

If your representative is on among those coauthors of the bill, now is the time to write in support of the Fight Book Bans Act. The same is true if your representative is not among the coauthors. Spend 10 minutes this week and be in touch with your congress person in support of the bill, then spend 10 minutes preemptively reaching out to your Senators, too, encouraging their future support of the bill.