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Perspective: The right to read

Ivan Pais

In 1822, the Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.” 111 years later, his books were among the thousands burned by the Nazis in a massive book burning in Berlin. There was immediate international backlash. After all, a jewel in the crown of freedom around the world was — is — the freedom of thought and exploration of ideas.

90 years later we are in the midst of another attack on public freedoms and liberties, as though we learned nothing from the fascists’ example. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, in support of Florida’s HB 1467, claims that the fervor over book banning is a hoax. However, several watchdog organizations, like Pen America, have rebuked DeSantis’ claim. Pen America has a database that displays 175 titles banned in Florida, and many more that are pending. Most of the titles being attacked in Florida and across the country deal with issues of race, gender, and sexuality, issues central to the exploration of identity and grossly dismissed as part of the so-called “woke agenda.”

Meanwhile, here in Illinois, House Bill 2789 — the Right to Read Bill — is making its way through the legislature with strong support. The bill prevents book banning due to partisan pressure, books like Stamped from the Beginning and And Tango Makes Three. This is the first attempt to protect intellectual freedom nationally, and it is a crucial move anyone who believes in the first amendment should champion. After all, when they ban books, they will, in the end, ban human beings too. And if you think that is hyperbole, just go ask a librarian or history teacher -- but the books with those answers may have been banned.

My name is Joseph Flynn, and that is my perspective.

Joseph Flynn is the executive director for equity and inclusion in the Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and an associate professor of curriculum and instruction.