A bill passed by the Missouri state legislature will prohibit the provision of material containing “explicit sexual material” to students. If such material is found, violators could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Senate Bill 775, which goes into effect August 28, specifically targets books, magazines, videos or online content that visually depicts sexual material, acts or genitalia in public and private schools. It does not apply to literary and written content.
Republican Senator Rick Brattin (Cass County), who drafted the amendment, says KSDK of several books which he found alarming, including, Fun Home: A Tragicomic Family by Alison Bechdel, Dead end by Jason Myers; and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.
“These novels contain graphic and pornographic material of sex acts and that’s what this language really dives into,” Brattin said.
When asked who would be held liable for explicit material, Brattin told KSDK, “Everyone in the school district is potentially liable if they subject kids to this stuff. It’s going to be the school boards, it’s going to be the teachers, it will be everyone will have to comb through to make sure they don’t present this to the kids.”
Tom Bastian, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Missouri, flouted the law in St. Louis Post-Dispatcharguing that it “narrowly defines ‘explicit sexual material'” and that libraries “already conform to well-established national screening criteria for selecting appropriate materials for their libraries”.
Left Bank Books owner Kris Kleindienst called it a “slippery slope” to KSDK and said lawmakers were using the language to ban books by LGBTQ authors and authors of color.
The new law provides an exception for “works of art, when taken as a whole, that have serious artistic significance, or works of anthropological significance, or materials used in science lessons, including , but not limited to, materials used in biology, anatomy, physiology, and sex education classes.
Already, this is starting to confuse librarians, some of whom are beginning to remove books.
In a statement responding to the decision, the Missouri School Librarians Association said it “represents all school librarians”.
“We understand the immense impact of taking on a challenge and will support our librarians to safeguard intellectual freedom,” the association said.
He suggested that school districts implement clear policies to prepare for book challenges.
In the event of a dispute over a book, the association provides librarians with help resources:
- The Missouri Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee may draft a letter that can be sent to the school district administration and/or school board.
- The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom can help with book-related challenges, including finding reviews to support contested material.
- The executive board of the Missouri Association of School Librarians may write a letter of support to the school librarian and the disputed material if the school librarian requests it.