Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the state’s textbook commission to approve or reject books in school libraries.
A version of the legislation passed the State House with a last-minute amendment that would give a state-appointed textbook commission the “final say” on books in public school libraries. The bill also seeks to increase the membership of the commission and requires it to issue guidelines to local educational agencies when it reviews library collections.
The approved bill would allow the textbook commission to review the list of materials in public school library collections and “approve or reject” the list if the materials are deemed inappropriate.
The state’s textbook committee would have “the final say on what happens in our libraries, so that we make sure we put age-appropriate books in there,” said Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican. and sponsor of the House bill. when voting.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat, asked during the debate why “are we usurping the authority of librarians and putting the state in the place of deciding what is and is not appropriate for our children?”
Sexton said there were books in school libraries that were “obscene in nature” and not age-appropriate.
Clemmons said librarians were “adequately trained and educated and knowledgeable enough” with experience to make such decisions.
“What are you going to do with them? Are you going to put them on the street? Set them on fire? Where are they going?” he asked about books being deleted.
Sexton said, “I have no idea, but I would burn them.”
Representative Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, said history did not look fondly on those who banned or burned books.
“I’m not sure that’s who we want to be included with,” Johnson said.
Sexton replied that he would not be on the commission, so there would be no book burning.
“We don’t ban books. We just remove them from the library,” he said.
The State House passed the bill as amended, so it now differs from the Senate version. The Senate version was put on the Senate calendar for Wednesday.
Republican legislatures and activists across the country have targeted programs and called for the removal of books dealing with racism or sexuality, the majority of them featuring LGBTQ characters and issues.
School districts in 26 states have banned or opened investigations into more than 1,100 books, according to a report published this month by PEN Americaan organization for the defense of literature and freedom of expression, which compiled data on these bans from July to March.
A school board in Tennessee voted this year to delete “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, was off her eighth-grade reading list due to profanity and nudity.
Critics of the bill gathered at the State Capitol ahead of the vote.
High school student Lindsay Hornick said she understood parents’ concerns about what their children read, but said: ‘Choosing my own literature has made me a more balanced person. I would hate to see my education system be limited by a board that has almost no diversity.
“There is almost no topic left that can be discussed in schools without controversy,” she said.
After the protest, Kevin Riggs, the senior pastor of Franklin Community Church, said the bill would lead to “diminishing voices of color, shrinking the LGBT community, shrinking different perspectives.”
“It all works hand-in-hand with all the other ban censorships we’ve seen,” he said.