(LOS ANGELES)– The decision by the Huntington Beach, California, City Council to seek a legal way to keep minors from reading library books one council member deemed obscene is “disappointing,” PEN America said today. The free speech organization said government censorship of books is a spreading political tactic that has no place in a democracy.

A proposal by council member Gracey Van Der Mark passed narrowly on a 4-3 vote shortly after 1 a.m., with the council’s conservative majority asking the city attorney and city manager to return with options for study in September. More than 100 people spoke during the five-hour-long meeting and another 600 emailed; a large majority opposed the idea put forward by Van Der Mark to adopt a new system to screen books for children.

“Let’s be clear: This is a proposal motivated by a desire to censor books, based on one council member’s ideas of what’s appropriate for all to read,” said Allison Lee, PEN America’s Los Angeles director.. “In this case, the council voted along party lines to endorse this censorious idea, which flies in the face of our Constitution, despite overwhelming community objection. We stand with the Huntington librarians and all who voiced opposition to the growing effort to ban books and suppress ideas, which continues to take new forms. Libraries already have sensible systems for developing their collections. Huntington Beach does not need a new process that will be easily manipulated to upend the freedom to read.

Elana K Arnold, one of the most frequently banned authors in the country in the first half of this school year, spoke, urging a rejection of the proposal. “When we ban books, we are declaring certain people to be unacceptable. When we ban books, we shut down conversations. When we ban books, the bullies win. This is an attack not only on authors and our books, but also on teachers, librarians, and readers. This is an assault on liberty.”

On June 1, Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond sent a joint letter to all county school superintendents, district school superintendents, and charter school administrators cautioning against book bans. The letter outlined educational civil rights and legal mandates school administrators are required to follow to preserve freedom and ensure access to diverse perspectives and curricula.

PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and defending against the unprecedented rise of school book bans nationwide. Texas, Florida and Missouri lead with the most books banned. Depriving students of exemplary literary works flies in the face of basic constitutional freedoms and PEN America is suing Escambia County, Florida, over its book bans. Black and LGBTQ+ authors and books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities have been disproportionately affected in the book bans documented by PEN America in the last year and a half. The wave of book banning is worse than anything seen in decades with PEN America counting more than 4,000 book bans since the fall of 2021.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057