Parents, Students and Lawmakers Rally Against Book Bans in Harrisburg

State Rep. Paul Friel speaking at a press conference on book bans in the Pennsylvania capitol on Sept. 19, 2023. (Photo:Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

September 20, 2023

State lawmakers returned from their summer break this week and Democrats hosted a press conference speaking out against book banning. One of the speakers included Buzz Bissinger, whose book Friday Night Lights was recently banned due to an artificial intelligence review. 

Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist from Philadelphia, spoke at a press conference at the Pennsylvania capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday about the dangers of banning books.

Bissinger’s iconic Friday Night Lights, which follows the story of a fictional high school football team in Texas that was then later adapted into a TV series, was briefly banned in the Mason City Community School District in Iowa thanks to ChatGPT deeming it unfit for students.  The ban was quickly reversed after the school district received attention for it. 

“A month ago my wife had told me that my book had been banned in a school district in Iowa. At first, I thought she was making something up. It made no sense to me, but in fact, in Mason City, they banned the book on the basis it contained an explicit sexual act. It did not,” Bissinger said at Tuesday’s press conference. 

Banning books and censorship in the classrooms is extremely unpopular with large swaths of the political spectrum. According to a poll released by NPR and ISPOS in June, book bans have the support of 5% of Democrats, 15% of independents and 35% of Republicans, while 52% of Republicans are against the practice.  

Earlier in the summer, State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) and State Rep. Paul Friel (D-Chester) introduced legislation to put a ban on book banning. They were joined at Tuesday’s press conference by students from the Central York School District and with parents from across the commonwealth. 

Cappelletti introduced Senate Bill 926, which would require local libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights and develop a written statement that prohibits local libraries from banning books or other materials. 

“The discourse on the rise of book bans also distracts us from what our mission as a Commonwealth needs to be: we must build up our community resources, make knowledge more accessible, and provide the public with places to indulge their curiosities and challenge their perspectives,” said Cappelletti

Friel introduced House Bill 1506, the Freedom to Read Act, which would create panels composed of teachers, superintendents, librarians and other teaching professionals to review book bans being pushed by school boards or outside groups like Moms for Liberty. 

Books are the window that allow our students to see and explore the world. They can teach us, they challenge us, they open our imaginations, but they are also safe places,” said Friel. “Sometimes, our kids, they’re out there, they’re by themselves. They think they’re alone, but it is in the library where they discover they are not.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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