A display of banned books at the San Jose Public Library (Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0/The Daily Montanan).
(*This story was updated on Wednesday, 3/1/23 at 12:33 p.m. to remove a reference to the North Penn School District.)
By Gary L. Day
In the ongoing battle over school book bans in Pennsylvania and nationwide, one group is speaking with an outsized voice.
Founded in early 2021 in Florida, Moms for Liberty (M4L) has expanded since then and now has over 200 county chapters nationwide in 35 states. The organization currently claims over 200,000 members.
Originally focused on opposing mask mandates in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, Moms for Liberty quickly expanded its agenda to oppose LGBT-positive policies in schools, LGBT-themed materials in school libraries, what they believe is critical race theory in curricula, and many other diversity-positive issues related to schools and students.
The organization has seen success in Pennsylvania, with chapters in at least 27 counties across the commonwealth.
Thanks to efforts by M4L and its Republican allies, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation in the number of school library book bans. Between July 2021 and June 2022, the commonwealth saw 457 book bans across 11 school districts.
Texas and Florida rank first and second in book bans.) While some of the bans have been rescinded, many Pennsylvania school districts continue to face pressure to remove material with LGBT content or diversity-themed content from their libraries and classrooms.
Among the districts in Pennsylvania that have banned books or are facing continuing efforts to initiate bans are Central York School District, Downingtown Area School District, East Stroudsburg Area School District, Eastern Lancaster County School District, Elizabethtown Area School District, Fairview School District, Franklin Regional School District, Kutztown Area School District, Pennridge School District, and Wissahickon School District.
The group is not operating in Philadelphia. According to Monique Braxton, Deputy Chief of Communications for the Philadelphia School District, the city’s local schools have not faced any pressure from M4L or other conservative groups to withdraw LGBT and other progressive material from their libraries.
But if the organization’s leadership has anything to say about it, that could change.
Later this year M4L plans to hold its second national summit in Philadelphia. Titled “Joyful Warriors National Summit,” the event will be held June 20-July 2 at the downtown Marriot. The first summit last year was held in Florida, where the organization was founded and where it maintains its national headquarters. The choice of Philadelphia, a well-known Democratic stronghold, is an obvious bid by M4L to increase their presence and influence in Pennsylvania.
At this point, M4L has not announced its roster of speakers and sponsors. However, last year’s Summit roster of speakers included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who imposed the Don’t Say Gay Bill on his state’s schools, and former Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who advocated abolishing the Dept. of Education.
The Marriot Hotel chain, host for both this year’s and last year’s summits, has non-discrimination policies. However, administrators at the Philadelphia Marriot did not respond to repeated requests from the Philadelphia Gay News for comment on M4L’s anti-LGBT and anti-African-American stances.
M4L tends to follow a predictable playbook. If a particular school board is not responsive to the organization’s demands, M4L mobilizes its membership to put forth a slate of right-wing candidates for the next election. According to Karen Smith, board member for the Central Bucks school district, that was exactly the strategy that gave M4L supporters a majority in Smith’s district. The result is that Central Bucks is undergoing a new round of efforts to ban a fresh list of LGBT-themed and racially inclusive books from the school library.
In response to M4L’s expanding presence, organizations are springing up to push back against the conservative takeover of local school boards. These include: Parents for the Freedom to Learn, whose purpose is to mobilized progressive parents to oppose oppressive education policies and book bans; School Board Partners, which seeks to challenge the growing conservative presence on school boards; and Truth(Ed) advocates to protect students’ rights to an unencumbered education. All these organizations have a strong, vocal online presence, as they attempt to combat Moms for Liberty’s expansion.
Gary L. Day wrote this story for the Philadelphia Gay News, where it first appeared.
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