Bill to ban ‘obscene’ books from school libraries passes Tennessee House

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved legislation banning books deemed “obscene and harmful” from public school libraries.

The Tennessee Senate is expected to take a final vote in just days.

Proponents of the legislation say it is to protect children, to keep them away from inappropriate material.

Opponents say it is about censorship and silencing the voices of the most marginalized groups.

“It’s really very problematic,” said Shahin Samiei, chair of the Shelby County committee of the Tennessee Equality Project. “There are communities across the state trying to make their voices heard and trying to get their stories told in an age-appropriate way, and these bills will silence communities that have been silenced. for many, many years,

HB1944/SB1944 would ban books from public school libraries deemed “obscene and harmful to children”.

For weeks, the legislation has deeply divided parents, grandparents and other members of the community.

“People steal the innocence of children,” said grandmother Victoria Jackson.

Jackson testified before a Tennessee House committee about the legislation.

“As Americans, we are tired of government intrusion even on our shelves,” said author Andrew Maraness, who also testified.

This legislation was introduced after schools in McMinn County in eastern Tennessee made national headlines for banning the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Maus, which is about the Holocaust, because the book contained strong language and an illustration of a naked woman.

Under the legislation, parents who are concerned about the content of books or materials could file a complaint with their child’s school.

After a parent files a complaint, a book would automatically be deleted for at least 30 days so that it could be reviewed.

It would be up to the school boards to conduct this review and determine, according to their own standards, whether the book or material is inappropriate.

If the board determines that the book or material is not appropriate for children, it will be permanently banned from the district.

If the board decides it is appropriate for children to read, it will be returned to the library.

“So if the individuals in this school district don’t feel like the school board is doing what they think they should be doing, they should definitely run for office,” State Sen. Joey said. Hensley, R-Hohenwald.

Hensley sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

Samiei worries that the real purpose of the bills is to suppress books about marginalized communities, like the LGBTQ+ community.

He says LGBTQ youth will suffer.

“I really fear for the students. I remember being a young gay man and needing a lot more support from my school for my school district,” Samiei said. “And I feel for these students now who feel like their state is not supporting them. Their state is targeting them for who they are or who they love. It’s terrifying.

The Tennessee House passed its version of the bill Monday night by a vote of 63 to 24.

The Senate version was passed by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, along with amendments aimed at limiting the number of times a book can be reviewed and the number of times a parent can file a complaint.

The Senate version of the bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

If passed, lawmakers will have to resolve any differences between the two bills before sending it to the governor.

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Colin L. Johnson