Free Speech

Missouri Republican pushes bill that could jail librarians for handing out ‘inappropriate’ books

The Missouri Legislature has introduced a bill that would establish parental boards to review books in public libraries, allowing them to determine which books are too sexually explicit for young people to read, The Washington Post reports. The five-member boards would be publicly elected and members would take suggestions as to which books are considered inappropriate for minors.

The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act (HB 2044) was introduced into the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Ben Baker (R) on January 8. Baker, who is the former Dean of Students at Ozark Bible Institute and College and is also a minister and missionary.

If the bill passes, library personnel face potential $500 fines and prison terms of up to one year if they “willfully” violate provisions established in the measure. And if this bill becomes law, libraries may lose all of their funding.

And the law raises concerns among organizations that work to defend freedom of expression.

“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy for PEN America, a nonprofit that works to defend free speech. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault — all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”

The bill would give the review board permission to order any material “deemed to be age-inappropriate sexual material to be removed from public access by minors at the public library.” And that’s not all. The orders can’t be reviewed by “the governing body of the public library, the state, or any political subdivision thereof.”

This is especially worrisome, Tager adds.

“Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill. The fact that a librarian could actually be imprisoned under this act for following his or her conscience and refusing to block minors from access to a book, that tells you all you need to know about the suitability of this act within a democratic society.”

Here’s the bill below.


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