Faith Leaders, Free Speech Advocates Call For Urgent Action on Book Bans During Capitol Hill Briefing

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 18, 2023

MEDIA CONTACT: Jonny Levenfeld, West End Strategy Team
jlevenfeld@westendstrategy.com, 202-704-4535

Faith Leaders, Free Speech Advocates Call For Urgent Action on Book Bans During Capitol Hill Briefing
Clergy members and activists joined Rep. Jamie Raskin to spotlight how book bans threaten religious freedom and democracy

WASHINGTON—Clergy and free speech advocates gathered on Capitol Hill today for an expert briefing examining the urgent threat that book bans pose to our communities and how people of faith can fight back. The event, “Banned Beliefs: How People of Diverse Faiths are Fighting to Protect Our Public Schools and Libraries,” was hosted by religious freedom group Interfaith Alliance and featured remarks from honorary co-host Rep. Jamie Raskin.

Watch the full briefing here.

“Anyone committed to preserving religious freedom and democracy for all Americans should be incredibly concerned by the sharp rise in censorship in our public schools and libraries,” said The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance. “Christian nationalists and far-right allies are driving book bans as part of their mission to intimidate and exclude anyone who looks, believes, or loves differently than they do. People of all beliefs must call upon the moral mandates of their own traditions and mobilize to reject book bans wherever they may occur.”

“The escalating crisis of book bans across our country is a direct attack on First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The freedom to read is essential for a strong democracy and religious pluralism,” said Rep. Raskin. “The sinister efforts to remove books from our schools and libraries are a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. I am grateful to Interfaith Alliance for its work to defend the freedom to read and its efforts to fight back against authoritarian attempts to ban books.”

Over the past few years, efforts to label certain books “harmful” and “explicit” have prompted the removal of thousands of titles from public school libraries and classrooms across the country. But their extreme agenda is not embraced by the majority of Americans: a 2022 poll from the American Library Association found that seven out of ten voters oppose book bans.

“At a time when a small, but vocal pro-censorship faction is irresponsibly using religion as a smokescreen to justify an assault on our constitutional rights, it is imperative that we are reminded that freedom of religion is adjacent to freedom of speech as part of the first amendment for a reason,” said Tracie D. Hall, former executive director of the American Library Association. “They are and remain innately connected because an assault on one indisputably compromises the other.”

Experts called attention to why efforts to censor public schools and libraries not only undermine democracy, but also pose an urgent threat to freedom of religion. In recent years, dozens of books featuring or authored by Jewish, Muslim, and other members of minority faiths have been targeted and removed from public school libraries.

“For more than 20 years, our organization has been fighting for Sikh representation in classrooms and curricula because we believe that ignorance breeds animosity,” said Anisha Singh, executive director of Sikh Coalition. “Access to diverse books and open discussions are essential to increasing understanding of marginalized groups and their perspectives and providing students the opportunity to learn about others and feel seen and safe in their schools.”

In spite of the challenges, diverse faith activists around the country are pushing back by raising their voices at school board meetings and state legislatures.

“Students deserve to find ourselves more represented in our school libraries than the books certain people wish to limit students’ access to,” said Texas-based student activist Cameron Samuels. “My school district in Katy, Texas challenged Holocaust books like Maus and the Diary of Anne Frank. My ancestors fled from religious persecution in Eurasia, and we are now experiencing similar intimidation tactics, like censorship that aims to erase my Jewish culture and identity from the narrative before it was even sufficiently in my school’s curriculum.
Censorship, especially of the Holocaust and marginalized people, erases our humanity. It’s up to all of us to stand up to censorship because if not us, then who?”

Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s work to combat book bans here. If you are interested in speaking further with Interfaith Alliance, please contact Jonny Levenfeld at jlevenfeld@westendstrategy.com or 202-704-4535.