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

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 5:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation that would ban books deemed “obscene and harmful” from public school libraries.

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

Supporters of the legislation say it’s about protecting children, keeping them away from inappropriate material.

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

“It’s really quite problematic,” said Shahin Samiei, the Shelby County Committee Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project. “There are communities all across the state who are trying to have a voice and are trying to have their stories told in an age-appropriate manner, and these bills will silence communities that have been silenced for many, many years,”

HB 1944/SB1944 would ban books from public school libraries that are deemed “obscene and harmful to children.”

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

“People are stealing the innocence of children,” said grandparent Victoria Jackson.

Jackson testified before a Tennessee House committee about the legislation.

“As Americans, we are weary of government intrusion even in our bookshelves,” said author Andrew Maraness, who also testified.

This legislation was introduced after McMinn County Schools 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 nude woman.

Under the legislation, parents who are concerned about the content of books or material would be able to submit a complaint to their child’s school.

After a parent submits a complaint, a book would be automatically removed for at least 30 days so it can be reviewed.

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

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

If the board decides it’s appropriate for children to read, it will be returned to the bookshelf.

“So, if individuals in that school district don’t feel like the school board is doing what they feel like they should be doing then certainly they have to stand for election,” said State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.

Hensley sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

Samiei worries the real aim of the bills is to remove 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 youth and needing a lot more support from my school for my school district,” said Samiei. “And I feel for those students now who feel like their state doesn’t have their back. 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 passed out of Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, along with amendments to limit the number of times a book could be reviewed and the number of times a parent could submit a complaint.

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

Should it pass, lawmakers will have to work out any differences between the two bills before sending it to the governor.

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