Maryland Introduces Groundbreaking Legislation to Protect Freedom of Reading

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A bill known as the “Freedom to Read Act” has sparked concern among librarians in Maryland. House Bill 785, recently introduced in the state’s General Assembly, aims to prevent libraries from excluding or removing materials based on the origin, background, or views of the creators. It also seeks to protect librarians from any form of retaliation. The bill addresses the growing trend of book challenges and bans that have been observed not just in politically conservative states like Texas and Florida, but also in progressive states like Maryland.

Tiffany Sutherland, President of the Maryland Library Association, expressed the fear among library workers who hesitate to recommend books to young people due to the current hostile climate. The constant barrage of book challenges has made librarians feel under siege. Del. Dana Jones, who introduced the bill, emphasized that these challenges often come from individuals who have not even read the books in question.

The rise in book bans and challenges is a nationwide phenomenon. In the 2022-2023 school year alone, there were 3,362 instances of books being banned or restricted in public school classrooms and libraries across the United States, according to Pen America. The volume of attacks on literary freedom is unprecedented, causing alarm among educators and book lovers.

Maryland’s proposed legislation, if passed, would be a significant step toward countering this trend. It would join Illinois as one of the few states to penalize libraries that ban books, while New Jersey considers similar measures. A federal bill called the “Fight Book Bans Act” was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December.

Critics of the book banning movement argue that it infringes upon the principles of free speech and personal choice. Supporters, often affiliated with groups like Moms for Liberty, claim that their objections are meant to protect children from objectionable content. However, their tactics include cherry-picking passages, submitting objections, and sensationalizing the content of books without engaging in substantial reading.

In addition to formal challenges, some individuals even resort to stealing or hiding books they disagree with. Libraries have reported instances where books displayed for events like Pride Month or Black History Month were checked out en masse and then returned, effectively denying others access to these materials.

To address this issue, the proposed Maryland bill includes stricter penalties for deliberately destroying or removing books from libraries. The fines would increase to $1,000, and perpetrators could face up to three months in jail. The bill aims to send a strong message to book banners, asserting that their actions will be recognized and countered.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding book challenges and bans raises important questions about personal freedoms and the role of government in determining what individuals can read. As Del. Jones highlights, individuals have the freedom to choose which books they want to read, and if certain books are deemed inappropriate for personal or family consumption, they can simply be left on the shelf. The bill reflects a commitment to protect the rights of those who wish to access a diverse range of literature without undue censorship or restriction.