Right to Learn
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has a long history of fighting for free speech. Nationally, we are seeing constant attacks on students’ First Amendment rights and efforts to ban books from community and school libraries. The American Library Association found that in 2022 there was a record 2,571 titles targeted for censorship. Almost all of the targeted books were written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or people of color.
It is crucial that we work together to ensure students’ First Amendment rights are protected and books remain on school and library shelves.
How to Take Action
The ACLU has created a list of actions people can take to help and prevent book bans in Minnesota and beyond.
Start a student group
Bring students together at your school! You can start a club to discuss how you can combat classroom censorship. Find allies in your educators, librarians, and administrators to support your work.
Sign the ACLU’s Pledge
Create a banned book club
Banned books clubs can spark important conversations about classroom censorship and help students access important stories they might be missing. Not sure where to start? First, review our roundup of “10 Books Politicians Don’t Want You to Read.”
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
- “Heather Has Two Mommies” by Lesléa Newman
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson
- “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
- “Melissa (Previously Published as ‘George’)” by Alex Gino
- “Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
- “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Activate your PTA
Parent-teacher associations (PTAs) are meant to give parents a voice and role in supporting their child’s school. PTAs are important for making demands of a school and school district not only because there is power in collective action, but because as contributors in the form of donations and volunteer hours, PTAs can have a lot of influence on school policy. Working within the PTA to make demands of your child’s school is a great way to exercise your voice as a parent.
Write and Submit a Letter to the Editor
Letters to the Editor are an important way to bring your message to a broader audience. Letters to the Editor and guest opinion pieces are especially powerful when they draw upon the author’s personal experience. As students, parents, and community members who are grappling with issues of inclusive education and classroom censorship, your contribution is important to this conversation.
Banned Books Talking Points
Here are sample talking points developed by the ACLU and partners that aim to highlight the danger of efforts to ban books and censor robust classroom discussion.
- All students have a right to read and learn free from censorship.
- All students have a First Amendment right to read and learn about the history and viewpoints of all communities — including their own identities — inside and outside of the classroom.
- Book bans and classroom censorship efforts work to effectively erase the history and lived experiences of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people and censor discussions around race, gender, and sexuality that impact people’s daily lives.
- The First Amendment protects the right to share ideas, including educators’ and students’ right to receive and exchange information and knowledge.
- Freedom of expression protects our right to read, learn, and share ideas free from viewpoint-based censorship.
- Book bans in schools and public libraries — places that are central to our abilities to explore ideas, encounter new perspectives, and learn to think for ourselves — are misguided attempts to try to suppress that right.
- All young people deserve to be able to see themselves and the issues that impact them reflected in their classrooms and in the books they’re reading.
- All students benefit from having access to inclusive teaching where students can freely learn and talk about the history, viewpoints, and ideas of all communities in this country.
- Every student should have the right to receive an equitable education and have an open and honest dialogue about America’s history.
ACLU-MN's Work in Protecting Free Speech
Here are a few examples of what the ACLU-MN has done to protect free speech (including prevening book bans) in the past years.
In 2022 the Becker School District proposed an ill-advised and likely unconstitutional policy that would have prohibited "political indoctrination or the teaching of inherently divisive concepts." This shocking policy would have effectively suppressed and penalized speech and teaching about LGBTQ+ issues and our nation's real and ugly racial history. It even applied to what students could wear or carry, presumably including Pride flags and buttons, Black Lives Matter T-shirts and even the art they could create. In the face of opposition from the ACLU-MN, Education Minnesota and other allies, the school board indefinitely tabled the policy.
Online and Virtual Communications
The ACLU-MN has a long history of advocating for students’ free speech rights in the digital world. Here are some of our legal cases:
- 2018, Jane Doe v. Rice County: A 14-year-old girl sent a sexually explicit Snapchat to a boy she liked, and he took a screenshot and sent it to others without her consent. Yet Rice County charged the young woman with distribution of child pornography. The ACLU-MN filed a brief, helping win dismissal of the charges. Interpreting the child pornography statute to punish teenagers who send images of themselves violates free-speech rights. There are much better ways for parents, schools, and communities to respond to sexting without criminalizing young people and jeopardizing their futures over a mistake.
- 2014, College nursing student: The ACLU-MN filed a brief to support a nursing student who was dismissed from his college program based on the content of his personal Facebook page. College student speech is entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment, particularly off-campus speech.
- 2011, R.S. and S.S. v. Minnewaska Area School District: R.S. posted a comment on her own Facebook page about her dislike of a school staff member while at home on her own computer. The school punished R.S. with detention and forced her to write an apology to the staff member. When she complained on Facebook that someone reported her to the school, the school disciplined her again, this time with an in-school suspension and prohibiting her from attending a field trip. The ACLU-MN sued and won a settlement from the school district, including stronger privacy practices and damages.