On January 8th, Missouri State Representative Ben Baker (R) introduced a bill that threatens to withhold state aid to public libraries whose bookshelves house materials that contain “any form of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse that: Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors…”
House Bill 2044, “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act,” calls for the creation of a board of five adult residents who would review all library materials to see if they contain any “patently offensive” content. If the proposed legislation becomes law, any library staff found in violation could face up to $500 in fines and up to one year in jail, and their library could lose all of its funding
“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,” Baker told local TV station KOAM. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.”
Critics, however, contend that the legislation is a blatant form of censorship. “This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” James Tager,deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America, said in a statement. “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 LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault — all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.
“Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill, Tager added. “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.”