This week, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is sending booksellers a letter urging them to contact their Congressional representatives in regards to the Freedom to Read Protection Act. The bill, H.R. 1157, was introduced into Congress by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and would remove a threat created by the USA Patriot Act to the privacy of bookstore and library records. The bill has already garnered the support of 101 members of Congress. (For a full list of co-sponsors, click here.)
"We're very excited at the pace in which the bill is picking up new co-sponsors," said Chris Finan, president of ABFFE. He explained that ABFFE was sending independent booksellers one of two different letters, depending on whether the bookseller's representative is already a co-sponsor of Sanders' bill or has yet to sign onto the bill.
One letter, sent May 20, urges booksellers to ask their representatives to become a co-sponsor of the Sanders bill. "This seems to be the time to make a major push to convince even more members of Congress to sign on," Finan said. (To see the letter sent to booksellers whose congressperson has yet to co-sign Sanders' bill, click here.)
A second letter sent to those booksellers whose representatives have already signed onto the bill asks booksellers to write their congressperson to thank him or her for supporting H.R. 1157. "We recognize that it takes courage to co-sponsor this bill at a time of heightened national security concerns," Finan told BTW. "The co-sponsors are vulnerable politically to criticism that they are undermining the government's fight against terrorism. It's all the more important to let representatives know how much you appreciate their support for their First Amendment rights."
In the letter sent to booksellers whose representatives are already co-sponsors of the Sanders bill, Finan stresses, "We need your help in thanking your member in the U.S. House of Representatives for agreeing to sponsor the Freedom to Read Protection Act
. Sponsoring the bill required great political courage."
The letter continues: "[ABFFE] and the American Booksellers Association believe that the Patriot Act poses a serious threat to First Amendment rights. If our customers fear that the government is monitoring their purchases, they will not feel free to buy books that might be considered 'suspicious.'
"Support for H.R. 1157 is building rapidly. Last week, ABFFE, ABA, and the national bookselling chains issued a statement strongly endorsing the bill. We were joined by more than 30 associations representing booksellers, librarians, book publishers, and authors." (To read the statement, click here).
Furthermore, Finan writes, "The members of Congress who have committed themselves to H.R. 1157 want to know that booksellers have noticed. They have taken a substantial political risk by supporting the bill, and you can be sure that they are hearing from critics who are accusing them of undermining the fight against terrorism." -- David Grogan