‘Freedom to Read’ Act Protects the Rights of New Jerseyans

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The Freedom to Read Act (New Jersey State Senate No. 2421) is important proposed legislation that supports and protects the rights of people in our state to access reading materials in public and school libraries, and protects library staff from harassment when responsibly doing their jobs. Yet at a recent Board of Education meeting in Hillsborough, member Joel E. Davis inserted his “opinion” on the bill, which surprisingly included many inaccurate statements (including referring to the bill as the “Privilege to Read Act”) and highlighting his lack of familiarity with it even though the content of the proposed Freedom to Read Act is public and can easily be found online.

This bill was introduced into the Senate on Jan. 29, 2024 and referred to the Senate Education Committee. The proposed bill is intended to protect our First Amendment rights through 1. Ensuring that families have the right to read materials that are relevant to their interests, needs, and levels, 2. Guaranteeing that parents have the right to challenge books in their local or school library, 3. Establishing a committee (which includes a parent and board designee) to review books that are challenged, and 4. Protecting librarians from harassment. Establishing these processes provides a legitimate forum for people to raise questions and concerns about books while ensuring that there is a balanced committee who can review these challenges and make evidence-based decisions regarding access to content.

New Jersey must protect the rights of the people who live in the state. The right to choose the books that you want to read should not be taken away by individuals who may disagree with your beliefs, or your parenting approach, or your interests. We do need a fair and equitable approach to identify books for inclusion in school libraries based on the age of readers, but I do not believe that these decisions should be unilaterally made. The Freedom to Read Act is a step in the right direction to protect our rights and I would encourage New Jerseyans to become familiar with the Bill and ask your legislators to vote yes for S2421.

Kristan Cline

Hillsborough