Free societies read freely!
It is our First Amendment right to decide for ourselves what we read, view, and hear—a fundamental element of free speech and expression.
But in recent months, public schools and libraries have been challenged like never before. The Iowa Legislature has signed into law SF 496, a wide-ranging bill with vague, highly problematic language that requires public schools K-12 to remove all books that have "descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act," but excludes religious texts, such as the Bible.
Parents, community members, and politicians in communities across the state have been demanding that books they find objectionable be removed. Most of the books contain LGBTQ content and removing them is an attempt to erase the LGBTQ community.
Many of the books are award winners, and all have been vetted by librarians and teachers for appropriate content. Certainly, parents of schoolchildren have control over what their child reads, and they can work with their student's teacher and school to limit their access to certain books. But schools should not remove access to these books for all children in the classroom or school.
As reported in statewide media, school administrators are struggling to comply. Some schools reported that they are waiting for guidance from the Iowa Department Education. Others already took action.
- Urbandale, for example, came up with a list of 374 books to remove from shelves and has since reduced that to 64.
- Norwalk issued a list of 64 banned books.
- Mason City banned 20 books from schools with a dystopian twist—using AI to help determine which ones should be banned.
- Iowa City removed 68 books.
Overall, The Des Moines Register found that more than 450 individual works by more than 300 authors have already been pulled from the shelves of Iowa school districts.
The bill also includes a provision that forbids "any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation," grades K-6 which is being interpreted by some schools to prohibit books with LGBTQ themes or characters.
While SF 496 has hugely expanded the scale of book banning in Iowa, there have been attempts for many years to remove books—mainly books about LGBTQ people—from school and city libraries.
In Pella in 2022, the city council nearly seized control of the public library because the library continued to offer the award-winning book, "Gender Queer," to its patrons.
At the Vinton Public Library, two directors resigned because of efforts to purge LGBTQ books. Our statement on that situation can be found here.
In 2018, Orange City was a hot spot for concerns about book banning. A petition was circulated in Orange City, demanding that the local library segregate and label books and content that have any LGBTQ content and halt the acquisition of any more. The library has since simply revised its overall classification of books by topic rather than author. Later that year, a man objecting to children's books at the library with LGBTQ content burned them and shared a video of it on social media.
In other cases, specific books have been the target of more limited challenges. The following is a listing of notable books that have been challenged from 2005 to 2022 in Iowa libraries because they contained references to sex, had LGBTQ references or characters, swear words, violence, mentions of violence, or mentions of suicide or drug use.
The Des Moines Register examined 327 Iowa public school districts from August 2020 to May 2023. This is a list of 9 novels challenged more than any others:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
- Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Sold by Patricia McCormick
- Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison