(LOS ANGELES)— PEN America said today a proposal to remove some books from general circulation because a council member viewed them as “obscene” constitutes a “perversion” of obscenity statutes and ignores established law.

Council member Gracey Van Der Mark called several books found in the Huntington library system “obscene” last Friday and said she plans to ask the council to draft a new law that would ban certain books from being made available to minors.

In response, Allison Lee, PEN America’s Los Angeles director, said: “Government officials weighing in on the minutiae of library collection management is nothing short of censorship. What Van Der Mark is describing is a ban: removing certain works from public access based on out-of-context quotes is a perversion of obscenity statutes and disrespects  the expertise of  librarians and media specialists. Mischaracterizing content as obscene ignores established law and stokes fear in communities for the sake of pushing political narratives. Removing these books from full circulation would be another troubling progression of the wave of bans sweeping across the country and set a precedent of censorship that would harm our California libraries.”

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 pertinent educational civil rights and corresponding 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