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H.R. 2147: Guarding Readers Independence and Choice Act


One bill, two bill, red bill… actually, no Democrats have cosponsored it, so it’s just a red bill.

Context

In March, the estate of children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss announced that they would voluntarily cease publication of six books from their catalog because of illustrations featuring racist stereotypes, particularly in depictions of black people and Asians. The two most famous of those six works are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo.

To be clear, those six books still exist. Millions of preexisting copies still circulate in many libraries, bookstores, and online outlets. Indeed, sales of those six books soared on Amazon after the discontinuation announcement. (Although other retailers including Barnes & Noble and eBay stopped selling them as a result of the March decision.)

And Dr. Seuss’ most famous books — such as The Cat in the HatGreen Eggs and HamThe LoraxHorton Hears a Who, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! — remain untouched. That’s because, unlike those other works, they aren’t filled with crudely racist illustrations.

What the bill does

The GRINCH (Guarding Readers’ INdependence and CHoice) Act would ban a certain type of federal grant, called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, to any state or locality that bans books for “offensive or outdated” content. However, the bill also contains a carveout allowing the local or state prohibition of books with “obscene or pornographic text or images or content that is harmful to minors.”

In other words, the bill would prevent the banning of books for “offensive or outdated” content (which in practice usually means works with racist tropes that are criticized or challenged by the left), while still allowing books to be banned for obscene or pornographic content (which in practice are usually criticized or challenged by the right).

The GRINCH Act title references Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was also adapted into two movies in 2000 and 2018.

The bill was introduced in the House on March 23 — a few weeks after the Dr. Seuss announcement — as H.R. 2147, by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA13).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that books, perhaps the most protected form of speech, shouldn’t be banned just because some people may find them offensive.

“Oh, the books they will ban! Cancel culture is rapidly encroaching on American institutions — starting in our elementary schools. To push back, I am working to safeguard children’s access to historic books and characters,” Rep. Joyce said in a press release. “As we have seen time and time again, the ‘woke’ horde will target just about anyone, even Dr. Seuss.”

“No American taxpayer should be forced to participate in this scheme against their will,” Rep. Joyce continued. “The GRINCH Act will prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding bureaucrats’ attempts to censor children’s literature and determine what our kids are permitted to read. We must not allow the left to wage further attacks on students’ First Amendment rights.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the Dr. Seuss decision was reasonable in light of evolving cultural norms, and one undertaken by the estate itself rather than forced upon it by a government agency or an angry mob.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of [six titles]. These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Opponents may also counter that although the bill was introduced weeks after the Dr. Seuss decision and clearly titled in reference to it, the legislation actually wouldn’t have prevented that action from occurring, since it was taken by a private company rather than a public library or government.

Odds of passage

The bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Last updated Jun 9, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 23, 2021.


Guarding Readers Independence and Choice Act or the GRINCH Act

This bill generally prohibits states and local educational agencies that ban books or written materials from receiving Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants.