Missouri law makes sharing ‘explicit’ books with students a crime

A new law in Missouri that focuses on child sex trafficking and sexual assault also includes what critics call a book ban that restricts the kinds of reading materials educators can provide to minors. It goes into effect on August 28.

In recent years, a wide variety of books have been challenged or banned in some states for a variety of reasons, including books deemed “explicit” or “obscene” for mentioning gender or sexuality, or for their discussion of race and the racism. The crusade to restrict these books is often led by Republican lawmakers.

In Missouri, Republican state senator Holly Thompson Rehder introduced the anti-trafficking measure, SB 775, with Democratic co-sponsor State Sen. Jill Schupp. The amendment targeting books was introduced by Republican state senator Rick Brattin.

Most of the law focuses on combating child sex trafficking, updating the state’s Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, and establishing the State Council on Child Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.

Rehder said in a statement that those provisions “reflect common decency and consideration for the dignity of the survivor,” and that the measure is intended to “ensure that justice is served” in such cases.

“Survivors should expect to receive a proper forensic examination and be kept informed of the status of evidence collected as the case progresses,” Rehder said in a statement about the law. “Survivors should expect to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse, and to receive reasonable protection from the perpetrator.”

But an amendment added to the bill also makes it illegal for librarians and educators to provide “sexually explicit material” to minors. If a person affiliated with a private or public elementary or secondary school provides what is considered sexually explicit material to a student, it could be considered a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable for up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

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Brattin, who added the amendment, says the legislation protects students.

“In schools across the country, we have seen this disgusting and inappropriate content in our classrooms,” Brattin he said in a statement. “Instead of recognizing this for the threat that it is, some schools are actually fighting parents to protect this filth. The last place our children should see pornography is in our schools.” She gave no examples of the type of content she referred to.

Schupp, the bill’s Democratic co-sponsor, said it was an important part of public policy that was “hijacked.”

“Unfortunately, legislative extremists had other ideas and deliberately hijacked a good bill to add language calling ‘pornography’ into school literature,” Schupp said in a statement to CBS News.

Schupp said the amendment was made “more acceptable” after lengthy negotiations. In the approved amendment, reference was made to “sexually explicit material,” including any photograph, film, video, image, or computer-generated image, but material deemed “artistic or informational in nature” is exempt.

“Extremists in the legislature would not back down from their insistence that a bill be passed,” Schupp said. “We fought hard to negotiate and move on to the new, significantly changed language that had started out as an outright ban on books.”

The Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) has encouraged school librarians Familiarize yourself with the language of the new law and prepare for book challenges. Librarians are also encouraged to consult with their boards of education about school library materials based on the new law.

“This bill was moving forward and at the last second this part was added that would affect libraries, specifically school libraries,” said Tiffany Mautino, president-elect of the CBS St. Louis affiliate organization. KMOV reported.

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Colleen Norman, chair-elect of the Missouri Library Association Committee on Intellectual Freedom, said “sadly” the new law “will be enforced by the school boards that make that decision.”

“We’ve seen school boards across the state that don’t follow their own policies that they have when it comes to material challenges,” Norman told KMOV.

MASL has faced book bans in the past, writing a letter to the president of the school board in Independence, Missouri, in July after the book “Cats vs. Robots Volume 1: This is War” was banned in the district. school.

“We are concerned that decisions made to remove or restrict could damage the trust that children and their families have in the schools they attend, as well as the ability of students to research and access materials.” the group wrote. “LGBTQ+ students need access to authentic representations of the Queer experience to provide a context for growing up in a predominantly ‘straight’ society, just as cis/straight children benefit from the perspectives of non-binary characters that help them empathize and understand the broader scope of human experience.”

CBS News has reached out to several school districts to see how they are responding to the new law. A representative from Nixa Public Schools said, “We are currently reviewing the impact the new law will have on any materials in our district. We will review the materials on a case-by-case basis as questions arise from parents or staff.”

The American Library Association says banning books It’s not new, but the crusade intensified in 2021, with more than 729 attempts to ban 1,597 individual books. Deborah Stone, Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, spoke with CBS News about the influx of state book bans last year.

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Stone said that books that are considered explicit often “reflect the lives of LGBTQIA individuals and families.” She said they are often labeled “obscene” or “pornographic” when they don’t really meet that definition.

“You may not be the audience, your child may not be the audience, but more often than not, there is an audience for books and often they are desperately needed,” he said.

Stone said that censorship that prohibits the reading of a certain book is a violation of the First Amendment rights of library patrons. He also said that all parents have the right to raise concerns about a book. “It’s also part of the First Amendment, the right to petition,” she said.

ALA encourages libraries and school boards to listen to concerns about books, but also to have a “reconsideration policy” that asks petitioners if they actually read the book in its entirety and what the basis for their complaint is, he said. Stone.

CBS News has also reached out to Missouri state senators Brattin and Rehder and is awaiting a response.