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Democracy Depends on the Freedom to Read

Libraries are the brick-and-mortar embodiment of the First Amendment. They are there to educate, entertain, and challenge us. Unfortunately, there is an organized movement to have certain books removed from our libraries. A number of Republican lawmakers in Idaho want to do that by offering cash bounties to parents who find books with a paragraph or illustration they find objectionable.

I recently talked with student writers at high schools in Boise and Moscow. These are young adults eager to learn how to become published authors. They take inspiration from books with characters like them, characters who are sometimes Black, Native American, or gay. Keeping certain books out of libraries might solve one family’s concerns about their child reading a particular text, but it removes the opportunity from another child.

Yes, some books are in

appropriate for younger readers. Librarians make every effort to place books in age-appropriate sections. The Kite Runner, a book often banned, might be wrong for lower grades. But the book would be fine for high school students who want to learn how people in Afghanistan lived before America engaged there in our country’s longest war.

If a parent is concerned about that book, or any other book a student is assigned to read, they have every right to say no. If that parent believes a book is not age-appropriate, they can ask that it be reviewed. Every library already has a policy and procedure on how to do that. With parental rights comes parental responsibility. Parents can’t expect a librarian to know what their child should be allowed to read. Parenting isn’t easy. This job can’t be passed to librarians or anyone else.

Librarians don’t need the threat of lawsuits hanging over their heads when they choose a new book for their collection. Imagine the chilling effect it would have if parents were turned into vigilantes looking for a reward if they find a book they don’t like. Libraries are full of books that people don’t like. They contain books that I don’t like. Good for them.

Libraries — especially school libraries ––

should hold our country’s history. It is not your fault or mine that the history of the United States includes some attitudes and actions that are embarrassing to think about today. It’s essential that we know the history that makes us uncomfortable, not just the history that inspires us.

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. Parents can say which books their children can and cannot read. They do not, and should not, have the right to say which books other children cannot read. Idaho Democrats will continue to fight censorship and any effort to roll back our freedoms.


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