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4/12/2024 Legislators, advocates rally to protect libraries’ freedom
STATE HOUSE – Rep. David Morales, Rep. Jennifer A. Stewart and Sen. Mark P. McKenney joined the Rhode Island Library Association and the Rhode Island State Council of Churches at a State House event Thursday to call for the passage of legislation to protect public libraries from partisan or doctrinal book-banning efforts.

“These bills affirm a clear declaration of the policy of this state to encourage and protect the freedom of public libraries to curate their collections without limitations,” said Senator McKenney (D-Dist. 30, Warwick). “Librarians have curated collections and done so capably for a long, long time. With all due respect to my fellow public officials, when it comes to deciding which books belong in public libraries, the last people I want making that decision are politicians worried about the next election.”

The first bill (2024-S 2429, 2024-H 7575) is sponsored by Senator McKenney and Representative Morales and would provide an affirmative defense for libraries, schools, museums and their employees against charges of promoting obscene material, meaning that they can negate all liability in obscenity cases brought against them by credibly showing they were acting in accordance with their educational mission. It would not remove or alter the existing process for evaluating an item that a member of the public has complained is obscene.

“Across the country an alarming number of educators and librarians are being subjected to harassment and criminal prosecution for providing access to books that contain information on health, sex education and LGBTQ+ themes. Books with LGBTQ+ subjects and themes in particular are disproportionally targeted in a way that seek to recriminalize queerness, sexual freedom and our trans community,” said Representative Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence). “Now more than ever it is time that we move forward, join the 44 other states and the rest of New England that already have affirmative defense protections in place for educators and librarians and demonstrate to our public servants in education that we value intellectual freedom and that we value their profession.”

The second bill (2024-S 2281, 2024-H 7386) is sponsored by Senator McKenney and Representative Stewart and affirms that it is the policy of Rhode Island to encourage and protect the freedom of public libraries to acquire books and other materials without external limitations and that these materials not be banned, removed, censored or have access to them restricted due to doctrinal or partisan disapproval.

“This bill was motivated by a deep love of public libraries and a deep love of reading that I developed because of a lifelong access to public libraries. I have been dismayed to witness over the last few years efforts to compromise the ability of public libraries to provide their important services to our communities,” said Representative Stewart (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket). “In an ideal set of circumstances, a bill like this shouldn’t be needed, but in today’s political climate it is vital that we assert the right of libraries to acquire materials according to their professional standards in order to satisfy the needs of their communities, both to protect public libraries and to make an important statement of the democratic values of Rhode Island.”

The advocates also called on the legislature and the governor to fully fund the state’s contribution to public libraries. Representative Morales and Sen. John. P Burke (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick) have introduced legislation (2024-H 7335, 2024-S 2589) to include this funding in this year’s budget.

“Public libraries hold a unique position in our often-polarized society because any person, regardless of their political views, socioeconomic status, religious background, gender identity, sexual identity, age or race can fully participate for free in the programs and services of their public library. Librarians have a professional responsibility to provide a diversity of materials in our collection that reflect all of the people in our American society,” said Cheryl Space, library director of the Community Libraries of Providence. “Please pass these bills and let all Rhode Islanders know that they are valued and that their history, their point of view and their stories will be protected in our library collections.”

Also speaking at the event were Rhode Island Library Association President Beatrice Pulliam, Rhode Island Council of Churches Commissioner Rev. Darren Collins and Margaret Paccione-Dyszlewski, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University.

The event was also attended by Sens. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown), Matthew L. LaMountain (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), David P. Tikoian (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Lincoln) and Linda L. Ujifusa (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol) and Reps. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence, North Providence), Rebecca M. Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Brandon C. Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) and Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence).

IN PHOTO: From left, Sen. Mark P. McKenney, Rep. Jennifer A. Stewart, and Rep. David Morales. 

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903