This blog post is by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, President and CEO of Interfaith Alliance, a Unite Against Book Bans partner.
You might be asking yourself why a religious freedom organization has joined the fight against book bans. But if you look closer, it becomes clear that people of faith have a huge stake in this fight. Our first freedoms, from religious freedom to free expression, are inextricably linked.
My organization, Interfaith Alliance, brings people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country together to build a resilient, inclusive democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights for all. Our mission is rooted in our commitment to the First Amendment, which enables people of all faiths to believe as they choose. It’s incumbent upon all of us dedicated to protecting our essential freedoms to band together against the coordinated national censorship targeting our nation’s public schools and libraries.
The rise of book bans has not coincidentally taken place against the backdrop of a growing Christian nationalist movement, a cultural framework that conflates American identity with an exclusive form of religious identity. Indeed, the movement to ban books follows the Christian nationalist playbook of imposing ideological control at all costs. By stripping our bookshelves of stories and characters representing beliefs that differ from their own, Christian nationalists and their allies seek to force their narrow definition of American identity on all of us.
In the process of these sweeping efforts to censor classrooms and libraries, it is students representing religious minorities who so often pay the price. Book bans have targeted hundreds of titles portraying Jewish and Muslim characters and themes, in effect silencing the perspectives of certain students and sending a chilling message that they do not belong. Books centering LGBTQ+ themes, characters of color, and difficult yet critical parts of our history are also being restricted at alarming rates, often with faith being used as the rationale for this censorship.
People of diverse faiths have often been at the forefront of organizing efforts for justice and equality. When I last spoke in Naples, Florida, it was just announced that 400 books had been taken off shelves. With Florida banning more books than any state in the nation, our local affiliate – Interfaith Alliance of Southwest Florida – has made mobilizing against book bans a priority. And they are joined by our other affiliates and many other faith inspired organizations across the country. Interfaith Alliance will continue mobilizing faithful Americans in communities across the nation to take a stand against censorship.
I would like to offer encouragement to those who care about working against book bans to reach out to local religious leaders and invite them into your coalitions. Unfortunately, many are using their religion as an excuse for suffocating our freedom to read – but most religious communities don’t support it. By harnessing the moral power of the vast majority of Americans who believe in religious freedom and free expression and urging them to speak out to public library and school boards and vote in local and national elections, we will win this fight for our democracy.
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s work fighting book bans and how you can take action to protect our freedom to read.