A bill passed through the Missouri State Legislature will disallow material with “explicit sexual material” to be provided to students. If such material is found, violators could be charged with a class A misdemeanor, resulting in a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $2,000.
Senate Bill 775, which will go into effect on 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, written content.
Republican Senator Rick Brattin (Cass County), who crafted the amendment, told KSDK of several books he found alarming including, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, Dead End by Jason Myers; and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.
“These novels have graphic, pornographic material of sex acts and that's what this language really dives into," Brattin said.
When asked who would be held responsible for the explicit material, Brattin told KSDK, "Every single person in the school district is potentially liable if they're subjecting kids to this stuff. It will be school boards, it'll be teachers, it'll be everyone having to comb through to make sure that they're not presenting this to kids."
Tom Bastian, a spokesman for the ACLU of Missouri, bashed the law to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, arguing it “defines ‘explicit sexual material’ narrowly” and libraries already “abide by nationally well-established selection criteria for choosing appropriate materials for their libraries.”
Owner of Left Bank Books, Kris Kleindienst, called it a “slippery slope” to KSDK and said legislators were using the wording 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 courses, including but not limited to materials used in biology, anatomy, physiology, and sexual education classes.”
Already, it’s starting to cause confusion amongst librarians, some of whom are beginning to remove books.
In a statement responding to the decision, the Missouri Association of School Librarians said it “stands with all school librarians.”
“We understand the immense impact of facing a challenge and will support our librarians to preserve intellectual freedom,” the association said.
It suggested that school districts implement clear policies to prepare for book challenges.
In the case that a book is contested, the association provided librarians with resources for help:
- The Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee may draft a letter that can be sent to the school district’s administration and/or Board of Education.
- The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom may assist with book challenges, including finding reviews in support of challenged material.
- Missouri Association of School Librarian's Executive Council may draft a letter in support of the school librarian and challenged material if requested by the school librarian.