'Obscene' books bill headed to summer study in Tennessee legislature

Books on a shelf
Posted at 10:00 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 23:02:30-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee lawmakers sent a bill Wednesday to summer study that would target "obscene books" found in public school libraries.

As written, the bill would have allowed parents to report books they found harmful to minors to the district's superintendent. In response, the school would have to remove the book for 30 days to allow the school board to review the material to deem whether it was acceptable for students to read. For districts that didn't comply, the state's education commissioner would have the option to withhold state funds.

The bill had passed the House 63 to 24, but lost steam for final passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, requested that it be sent to summer study.

"I would urge the committee not to do that," Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald said. "This is a very clear problem we have with obscenity in the library. It's very narrow. I would urge them not to send it there."

The committee voted 6-3 to take it to summer study.

"Some of the materials that have been shown to me are further beyond what I would have expected to see," Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, said. "There are far worse examples. That's part of the dilemma here of where do you draw the line?"

Members of the public — ranging from students to concerned parents — spoke to the committee about different books and perspectives they had on the bill. Some who spoke to the committee worried that this would have negative effects on public librarians.

"If the librarian did this intentionally, they looked at it and knows it goes against a law, I have no problem with them being prosecuted full extent of the law," Sen. Paul Rose, R-Covington, said. "But an accidental inclusion, I don't think a judge would prosecute."

The Tennessee ACLU said it agreed with sending the bill to summer study.

“We applaud today’s vote to send this misguided, unnecessary bill to summer study," ACLU of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg said. "Obscene content is already prohibited in schools under the law, as it should be. This bill amounted to nothing more than unconstitutional censorship. All parents want schools where students are valued and accepted, and truthful education that sets kids up to succeed. Stopping this bill allows schools to continue creating a safe environment to talk about tough issues, supporting kids of all backgrounds.”