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Maryland Governor Signs “Freedom to Read Act” Into Law

“Maryland takes a bold step forward in safeguarding the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ youth and educators.”

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks at an event on the Biden Administration's workforce initiative plan at Carver Vocational School on November 13, 2023, in Baltimore, Maryland.

On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) enacted HB 0785, known as the Freedom to Read Act, into law, prohibiting libraries that receive state funding from banning books.

“Schools should be working to build inclusive environments that reflect the diversity of their student body and community. It is especially critical that state leaders like Governor Moore rise up for policies that foster inclusive learning when resources and supports for LGBTQI+ youth continue to be targeted by extremists across the country,” GLSEN’s Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jagger said in a statement emailed to Truthout.

HB 0785 safeguards the autonomy of libraries that receive state funding by prohibiting the censorship of books based on the creator’s background, origin, or viewpoints, as well as partisan disapproval. The bill also ensures protection for school and public library staff who adhere to the state library standards outlined in the bill, shielding them from retaliation. Violation of these provisions could result in the loss of state funding for libraries.

“This session, I wanted to put some safeguards and best practices in place to prevent intolerance and hate from taking further root in our state institutions and schools,” said Speaker Adrienne Jones (D), one of the sponsors of the bill.

In the previous year, Maryland witnessed 148 book challenges in both public schools and libraries, placing the state among the 17 nationwide to exceed 100 contested titles. According to the Maryland State Library Agency, there has been a 133 percent surge in formal challenges to library collections since 2019. The agency’s research revealed that 53 percent of librarians felt hesitant about acquiring specific books, despite believing they would benefit students, while 52 percent expressed that book challenges have added complexity to their roles.

“We are protecting libraries, librarians and literature,” said state House Delegate Dana Jones (D).

According to the American Library Association, nearly half of the challenged titles in 2023 revolved around themes involving LGBTQ+ individuals or Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Banning books with these themes leads to the “othering” of students who share these identities, advocates say.

“Our public schools should help our children pursue their dreams, learn new ideas, and understand different perspectives. That means giving students an honest and accurate education without banning books and politically motivated censorship,” the Maryland State Education Association said in a statement. “At a time when we’re seeing record levels of attempted book bans, which are all too often motivated by extremist politics, it’s time to take a stand for an honest and accurate education by supporting the Freedom to Read Act.”

Moore also signed HB 1386, a bill requiring anti-bias training for all school employees, into law. The bill mandates the implementation of a program developed in consultation with the State Department of Education and the Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board. These guidelines must be culturally sensitive and inclusive, meeting the diverse needs of educators and students. Additionally, school boards are tasked with providing training to public school employees who frequently interact with students as part of their duties.

“With Governor Moore’s signature on HB785, the ‘Freedom to Read Act,’ and HB1386, instituting vital anti-bias training for school employees, Maryland takes a bold step forward in safeguarding the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ youth and educators,” Willingham-Jagger said.