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Tennessee Does Its Part In National School Censorship Crusade
That's some Fahrenheit, that Fahrenheit 451!
The Tennessee General Assembly passed an exciting new school censorship bill Wednesday that will give a politically appointed commission the power to decide what books are allowed in every school library in the state. No more worries about local control, because the commission will now be able to dictate what kids all over the state can read. And to sweeten the deal, the bill's House sponsor, state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R), said that if it were up to him, any books the commission didn't approve would be burned. Sadly for the more censorious culture warriors in the Lege, actually putting books to the torch didn't make it into the law. There's always next year!
We also feel compelled to point out that Rep. Sexton represents a place called "Bean Station," which frankly sounds a little too risqué for the good God-fearing people of Tennessee. Wouldn't want the ladyfolk to get ideas.
add members to the state's textbook commission and task the commission with providing guidance for schools when reviewing materials to ensure they are "appropriate for the age and maturity levels" of students.
We sure love it when promoters of moral panic use the Number of the Beast in their culture war bills. Idaho legislators, you'll recall, set out to jail librarians with HB 666 earlier this year, although the proposal died in the state Senate.
But merely providing guidance and creating general standards was apparently far too liberal and wimpy for Sexton. First, he added an amendment that would have required the commission to issue a list of "approved" instructional materials that could be used in Tennessee schools, thus making sure no teacher could ever pollute kids' minds with anything that hadn't been vetted at the state level. Flowers, by state decree, would be red , and teachers would damn sure color only within the lines.
That sparked a lot of controversy, so Sexton withdrew his amendment Wednesday morning; he quickly replaced it, however, with the amendment that eventually passed, which would require the expanded textbook commission to review the holdings of all school libraries in the state. The commission could approve or reject entire library collections, or single out particular materials for removal.
Because the House and Senate versions differ, the bill will have to get through a conference committee, where the stupid censorship provision might yet be stripped out before HB 2666 goes to Gov. Bill Lee (R) for a signature. Or hell, maybe it'll be made worse. It's that kind of year.
In debate on the amendment Wednesday, Sexton was asked by a Democratic colleague, Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville), what he thought should be done with any books that were removed from school libraries under his plan.
Clemmons: Let's say you take these books out of the library. What're you gonna do with them? You gonna put 'em in the street? Light 'em on fire? Where are they going?
Sexton: I don't have a clue, but I would burn them.
Clemmons: That's what I thought. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Sexton later clarified that while burning the books might be his preference, nobody needed to worry about any book burning no how, because after all, he wouldn't be a member of the commission, so stop your fretting.
He also offered the reassuring thought that "We're not banning books, we're just removing them from the library." Yes really.
Sexton also insisted that the textbook commission would really for sure only remove the most horribly blatant examples of objectionable books, although he didn't specify what they might be. Maybe only books with bad words, gays, sex, and maybe Jews? Who knows!
Further, as the Tennessean notes, the text of the bill doesn't actually define much of anything beyond requiring that materials be "appropriate for the age and maturity levels" of students, and that they also be "suitable for, and consistent with, the educational mission of the school." So really, a lot would depend on who ended up being appointed to the commission — not that there's the remotest chance it might end up being stacked with ideologues.
Oh, wait, there's already been an uproar over appointees to the commission, even in its current form. In 2021, the Tennessee House confirmed rightwing activist Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who made her name stirring up fears about a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, claiming that fully 30 percent of Muslims are terrorists and that the mosque would be a base for "radical Islamic extremists" bent on destroying Nashville's Christian music industry.
During her confirmation hearing, she explained that bad school textbooks are directly responsible for wrecking America:
While America slept, the hearts, minds and souls of our students were being influenced by disinformation. Tragically we have seen the result over the past few months; our streets have been filled with rioting destructive American young people who have not been taught the values entrusted to us by our nation's founders ... nor have they been taught our nation's history — history which many seem intent to destroy
Not surprisingly, Cardoza-Moore has also defended the January 6 2021 insurrection (it was ANTIFA!), circulated claims that the COVID-19 vaccine isn't really a vaccine , and insisted in 2020 that Black Lives Matter seeks to eliminate Christianity — so patriots need to get rid of all the evil textbooks that are misleading children and turning them into communists.
Sounds like just the sort of person Tennessee needs deciding what books will be allowed in Tennessee school libraries.