This Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened for a special hearing to discuss book bans instituted by states and in local school districts across the country.
Across the nation, right-wing activists masquerading as “parent rights” groups have called for the banning of thousands of titles at school libraries and public libraries. The titles are varied, but the majority of titles challenged by these groups deal with race, gender, sexuality, and even religion. Titles educating students about the Holocaust have been targeted in many book bans.
“Limiting access to a book about antisemitism or racism does not protect students from the actual history or the reality that hate still exists,” said committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) near the beginning of the hearing.
In the wake of the passage and ongoing litigation surrounding Texas’ book ban bill, HB 900 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), the Lone Star State was the center of discussion for much of the hearing.
Cameron Samuels, a student activist and recent Katy ISD graduate, was invited to testify about how local book bans have affected Texas schools. They are the co-founder and executive director of Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), a student organization dedicated to bettering our state through public policy reforms.
In their testimony, Samuels stated that student voices should be prioritized in conversations regarding book bans. Samuels, who is Jewish, focused on the decision by Katy ISD to target Maus, a memoir by cartoonist Art Speigelman chronicling his parents’ experience during the Holocaust.
“Classmates told me the Holocaust did not exist,” Samuels testified. “Many could not name a Jewish person so they learned about Judaism through media representation, often dominated by stereotypes. Books like ‘Maus’ teach accurate reflections of Jewish identity.”
Samuels’ testimony begins at minute 52 of the recording of the hearing.
According to a 2022 analysis by PEN America, a national nonprofit, Texas has banned more books than any other state — and that was before HB 900 passed.
Despite the focus on Texas, neither Sen. Ted Cruz nor Sen. John Cornyn, who are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke about book bans during the hearing. Cornyn was silent on the subject. Cruz did not show up to the hearing.