DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The push to ban books from schools and libraries is accelerating across the country, including with a law in the Ohio statehouse.
This week is nationally recognized as Banned Books Week. Dayton Metro Library uses this week to celebrate the freedom to read.
“We want something for everyone that they like and enjoy and agree with, and we want something that that offends everybody,” Dayton Metro Library Deputy Executive Director Rachel Gut said. “If we’ve done that, then we have a balanced collection.”
Gut said Dayton Metro Library does, on occasion, receive requests for reconsideration to have books removed from the shelves.
“Most of the time we we find that the item is appropriate, at least for some audiences,” Gut said, adding that the library will remove books with historical or factual errors.
However, the push to have books removed from libraries and classrooms nationwide is growing.
Cedarville University Professor of History and Law Dr. Marc Clauson said banning books has been ongoing since the Middle Ages, but more recently in the U.S., it’s focused on books with topics people deem inappropriate.
“Books associated with the curriculum that have to do with transgenderism, LGBTQ plus rights and activities, pornography,” Clauson said.
But more recently, it’s gotten attention in the u-s because of attempts by lawmakers on both sides to ban books deemed “inappropriate.”
Law Professor with University of Dayton Erica Goldberg said the debate to to ban books happens by lawmakers and people on both the left and right, usually for different reasons.
However, Goldberg said books fall under the protection of the First Amendment.
“The government certainly cannot ban the general public from reading any particular book unless the book contains material that is not protected speech,” Goldberg said. “So obscenity, which is a very high bar and distinct from pornography, or if the book is defamatory, you could potentially have lawsuits about that book.”
It’s more of a gray area for school districts, where the board of education and government can control what books students are assigned to read in the curriculum.
“They are allowed to do that,” Goldberg said. “As sort of politics ebbs and flows, you get different school boards with different views about what students should learn.”
Ohio has House Bill 327 going through Statehouse committees right now that would ban “divisive topics” in schools and school libraries.
Clauson said the vague wording in this bill could be problematic.
“It is a bit problematic how you define divisive topics,” Clauson said. “If the conservatives conservatives are in control, they will think that so-called liberal topics should be banned. If liberals are in control, they may think that conservative topics should be banned.
Goldberg said if not abused, the law could help prevent schools or teachers from pushing one-sided opinions onto students.
“The proposals often are about schools not imposing certain views on students or forcing students to have certain views,” Goldberg said. “They do get into not teaching divisive concepts, and that will likely involve books that are divisive.”
Dayton Metro Library said banning books from schools causes more harm than good.
“Those are items that help kids think,” Gut said. “That helps kids think about what if my world were like that? We’re cutting people off from ideas when we ban books.”
Dayton Metro Library has banned book displays up in its libraries this week, along with a banned books bag patrons can take home.
Banned Books Week will wrap up with a presentation at the Dayton Metro Library Main Library Bassani Theater from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m. Author Alex Gino will speak about their book “Melissa,” which has been challenged multiple times since its publication in 2015. To learn more, click here.