Andrew Zwicker says it’s unbelievable that in 2024, one needs legislation to fight censorship.
All don’t agree.
Republican Assemblyman Erik Peterson, in fact, is so enraged at Zwicker’s proposed “Freedom to Read Act” that he has come up with a nickname for the Democratic state senator from LD-16.
He calls him “Sick Zwick,” and says the senator backs “vulgar and graphic books (for) children.”
While Peterson’s name for a fellow legislator seems more appropriate for high school than state government, it’s also in line with the polarized and uncivil discourse of the day.
Book battles have been in vogue for the last year or so all across the nation.
Zwicker and Peterson (LD-23) have both been active in a simmering war over books at North Hunterdon Regional High School, where a school librarian has earned warm praise – and harsh condemnation – for refusing demands to remove a handful of books.
Last month, Zwicker showed up at a rally of librarian supporters.
Peterson, meanwhile, spoke out against what he said were inappropriate books at a school board meeting.
One book in particular, “Let’s Talk About it,” attracted the most attention.
Supporters say the book is a useful guide about sex and gender for many students; opponents say it’s “pornography.”
The next stop on this peculiar version of a “book tour” is Thursday in Trenton when the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take up Zwicker’s bill, which is also sponsored by Teresa Ruiz, the Majority Leader.
You can expect a large crowd to attend.
The Freedom to Read Act would require that public libraries, including those run by schools, protect librarians and other personnel from “harassment.”
Perhaps the most controversial part of the bill would make librarians and other staff “immune from criminal and civil liability,” presuming they’re doing their jobs properly.
Moreover, the bill would also allow library employees to file suit against those harassing them.
None of this is theoretical.
In the heated debate over books, it is not uncommon to hear and see online comments calling librarians pedophiles, child molesters and criminals.
In Roxbury, Morris County, the high school librarian filed suit against four residents, claiming they have libeled her during exchanges over books in the library. The suit is pending.
Peterson, in a release, suggests that what is “criminal” is what is happening “in public school libraries and it should concern every parent regardless of their political affiliation. Schools are curating a collection of books that appeal to prurient interests, promote exploring sexual deviance with minors and finding information about fetishes on the internet – home to known child predators.”
He is not the only Republican who feels that way, but this brings us not to reading, but to arithmetic.
Democrats hold healthy majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, meaning that GOP protests over this bill may be meaningless.
With that in mind, it’s relevant to note that last fall, Republicans made books and public school curriculum in general a big part of their legislative campaign.
But the bottom line was that Republicans gained no seats in the Senate and lost six in the Assembly.
A blunt question must be raised: Just how many people in New Jersey are truly concerned about library books?