A bill (HB 2044) proposed on January 8, 2020, by Missouri representative Ben Baker calls for the creation of parental oversight boards to remove books from the children’s section of public libraries if they are deemed sexually inappropriate. Compliance with the boards is tied into state funding and librarians who allow children access to the censored books may be fined up to $500 or face up to one year in prison.
The parental oversight boards are to be composed of five adults who live in the library’s geographic area. They will be voted on by a majority, serve two-year terms, and listen to public comment on why books are sexually inappropriate and thus should be removed from the children’s section. The bill specifies that inappropriate material is defined as the following:
(1) “Age-inappropriate sexual material”, any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, that:
(a) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors;
(b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is appropriate material for minors; and
(c) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors;
Baker’s justification for the bill is that children need to be protected from certain content. He told a local news outlet, “The main thing is, I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material.” He also argued that he does not want to ban books as the materials can still be in the library–but in the adult section. And some news articles suggest that Baker is more concerned about banning programs like Drag Queen Story Hour than banning books, even though the language of HB 2044 specifically refers to “materials.”
Baker’s bill rejects the idea that readers should be allowed to determine for themselves what is objectionable material, and that parents, rather than the government, should be responsible for what their children read. It opposes the ideals espoused by the American Library Association (ALA) in their Freedom to Read Statement, which asserts that the ability to choose is the foundation of democracy:
“Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be ‘protected’ against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.”ALA “Freedom to Read Statement”
A parental oversight board would give the power to ban books to five individuals. It would allow a small minority to determine what books every child in the community is allowed to access. Hopefully, HB 2044 will not pass. But it is alarming it was ever proposed.
If you live in Missouri, contact your representative to tell them you oppose censorship and book banning.