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Can't Republicans Just Burn All The Library Books And Get It Over With Already
Florida bill turns up the censorship, Missouri House defunds public libraries.
Republican-controlled state legislatures just can't seem to be satisfied in their war on public and school libraries, even after they've already passed censorship laws that might make Big Brother say "OK, aren't you kind of piling on?" A couple of prime examples: In Florida, a bill designed to expand the reach of the state's infamous "Don't Say Gay" law also contains a provision that would allow rightwing activists even more power to force schools to pull library books from the shelves, and in Missouri, the state Legislature voted yesterday to eliminate all state funding for public librariesfrom the state budget. So far, no states have actually authorized Fahrenheit 451 - style mass burnings of books, mostly because they haven't yet figured out a way to sidestep the mandatory environmental impact review.
Florida: Ban Books First, Ask Questions Later
Yr Wonkette has already discussed Florida's bills aimed at expanding last year's "Don't Say Gay" law to prohibit acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people in any grade of school, right up through high school. The bill, Florida Senate Bill 1320, would prohibit any use of preferred pronouns for trans people, ban any classroom instruction "on sexual orientation or gender identity until grade 9" — up from the third grade in the current law — and require that high school sex ed classes must "teach that the male and female reproductive roles are binary, stable, and unchangeable," among other things.
But buried in the bill text is yet another provision that hadn't gotten much notice until now, as discovered by political scientist Jeffrey Sachs, who tracks censorship laws for PEN America . As the Washington Post reports (free gift linky), SB 1320 would turbocharge book challenges, requiring school systems to immediately remove any books from all school libraries once someone — anyone in the county, not even a parent with kids in the system — files a challenge to the book or other library holding.
Say goodbye to due process! The law appears to ban any materials that depict "sexual" or "pornographic" content, which of course prior iterations of the "Don't Say Gay" law defined so vaguely that it could apply to damn near anything, and it already has. As WaPo's Greg Sargent explains , the ban first, ask questions later approach is intentional:
The bill’s chief sponsor, Republican state Sen. Clay Yarborough, doesn’t deny this. He holds it up as a positive. In a statement emailed to me, Yarborough cited the bill’s targeting of sexual material and said he will always “err on the side of protecting children.”
“I do not have any concerns with the materials being removed until an objection is resolved,” Yarborough added.
This is where we remind you again that schools are not throwing porn at children anyway; instead, the existing laws have already been used to pull books like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye , which includes a rape scene that's not prurient, but which is important to the main character's plight. Students have asked for the book to be restored because they found the book an important work of literature.
Read More, while you can!
Kara Gross, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Florida, told Sargent that SB 1320 offers rightwing activists all sorts of opportunities for censorious mischief. If a single complaint can get a book pulled from shelves, she explained, "It grants enormous power to a single bigoted individual to dictate and control what books other parents’ kids have access to."
We've already seen complaints from one parent lead to scores of books being removed from school libraries under the current censorship regime. The ban-on-complaint rule would let an aggrieved rightwing activist demand schools remove hundreds of books immediately, until they can be reviewed, one by one, to determine whether the books can be returned to shelves. Gee, you don't suppose rightwing astroturf groups like Moms For Fascism would abuse the law by filing so many book challenges that school library staff would have little time for anything else?
Also, sure, we suppose liberal trolls might use SB 1320 to try to temporarily remove the Bible and the Collected Brainfarts of Rush Limbaugh from school libraries, too. Why not have everyone tie up the schools with pointless busywork?
Missouri: House Defunds Libraries To Teach Librarians, ACLU A Lesson
Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives voted yesterday to remove all state funding from public libraries, as revenge on library groups that had dared to sue over a censorship law passed last year. That 2022 law banned school libraries from carrying "sexually explicit" materials. The measure doesn't apply to written descriptions of sex, so smut peddler Toni Morrison can breathe easy for once. But it prohibits visual media — photos, drawings, videos, etc. — defining "sexually explicit" imagery as anything "showing human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse,” “sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse,” or depicting human genitals. Librarians and other school employees could be charged with a misdemeanor and if found guilty would face up to a year in jail and/or a $2000 fine for each charge.
The law includes exceptions for educational materials, like fine art, sex ed, or anatomy or biology texts, but it would likely ban works like Maia Kobabe's graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir, and other comics and graphic novels. As the AP explains, the law is still so broad that library groups and the ACLU sued to have it thrown out as unconstitutional, or at least to get court guidance on "how and when it applies."
The suit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association. The ACLU is representing the librarian groups pro bono, but the lawsuit nonetheless raised the hackles of Republicans, because how dare those librarians push back against a perfectly fine censorship law? After the law passed last year, schools removed hundreds of titles, many of them by LGBTQ authors or people of color, although we'd bet a nickel they weren't in any sense "pornographic."
And yes, while the law applies only to school library holdings, the public libraries have to suffer because public librarians had to go and sue over a bill that's none of their damn business. Know your place, ladies.
The $4.5 million funding cut was introduced last week by Rep Cody Smith (R), the chair of the House Budget Committee, who explained,
“They are seeking to overturn that law that was unanimously supported by the House,” said state Rep. Cody Smith, a Carthage Republican and chair of the committee who proposed the cut. “I don’t think we should subsidize that.”
Yes, see again that part about the ACLU taking the case pro bono.
An ACLU of Missouri spokesperson, Tom Bastian, said in a statement when the budget cut was introduced that punishing the state's library patrons was "abhorrent":
If the members of the committee are concerned about preserving taxpayer funds, they should stop enacting laws they know do not meet constitutional muster, not burden local governments in a misguided effort to silence organizations who object to the legislature’s overreach.
Well, look, Mr. American Communist Libertines Union man, if librarians would just understand that Republicans can do whatever they want, things would run a lot smoother, and the losers and drifters who use public libraries might not get caught up in the crossfire.
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