A Miami-Dade church and bookstore kicked off Banned Books Week with a protest against escalating censorship in public schools.
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of indie bookstore chain Books & Books, joined with Coral Gables Congregational Church to organize the Sunday “Walk for Freedom” event.
“Reading is all about empathy,” Kaplan told the Miami Herald. “It’s all about learning one’s history and the history of others. If you attempt to restrict that, what you’re doing is… whitewashing history in a way that doesn’t allow young people to really understand both the beauty of this democracy that we live in, as well as all of the things we need to do to make it even better.”
The church calls itself a “sanctuary for banned books.” During Pastor Laurie Hafner’s service ahead of the walk, she condemned the book bans as an affront to both the Constitution and spirituality.
“It’s about concealing painful truths and the whitewashing of American history,” Hafner said. “It is about denying our young people the God-given right to think critically, and in turn, to develop empathy.”
Florida is the center of an alarming rise in efforts around the country by conservative policymakers to restrict books and curricula in public schools and colleges – most of which address issues of race, gender, sexuality and similar topics. Florida school districts in 21 of the state’s 67 counties have removed over 1,400 books from their shelves since July 2022, when the “Don’t Say Gay” law went into effect. Many attribute this number to the vague wording of the laws and outsized power given to parents to request book removals from school libraries.
Other South Florida-local organizations teaming up with Books & Books for Banned Books Week include Villain Theater and The Coral Gables Cinema, which are hosting events alongside the bookstore throughout the week.