Our Voices

Freedom of Opinion and Expression: A Human Rights-focused conversation on book bans

During a time when over 1,477 books have been banned nationwide, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights held an in depth conversation about book banning and its implications for the nation’s schools and beyond as part of its Speak Truth To Power’s Fall 2023 Speaker Series.

Rebecca Stephens, Human Rights Education Manager introduced the forum where Milo Bisgaier, a senior at George School in Newtown Pennsylvania, and leader of the school’s sexuality and gender alliance interviewed Peter Bromberg, Associate Director for EveryLibrary.

After Bromberg was asked about one of his favorite “banned books” of the moment, he noted that The Diary of Anne Frank is back in the news, the autobiography of the late Dutch teen being recently challenged in two districts in Texas, and two in Florida.

“I find the memoir very powerful, and I’ve always been fascinated by the paradox of when someone tells a very personal story it becomes more generally relatable of human values and human experiences,” Bromberg said, adding that “her story serves as a warning of what can happen when neighbors turn on eachother, and find themselves supporting evil…we need those warnings.”

Bromberg also discussed EveryLibrary’s rapid response program dealing with book challenges. The organization works to identify local stakeholders and connect them to one another to help them band together and take action.

“This work takes some courage, some energy,” he said. “What to do is to show up and speak up, whether that’s at your library board meeting, your school board meeting, doing an email campaign or by sharing personal stories.”

Bromberg also praised recent anti-book banning legislation in states such as Illinois and California, and proposed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“It’s fantastic we’re seeing activity at the state level. It creates a model for other states and permission to pursue this,” he said.

As part of its annual book and journalism awards in 2023, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights honored librarians across the nation who fought back against book bans, and joined the Unite Against Book Bans campaign founded by the American Library Association.