Missouri Librarians Face Jail Time Over Sexually Explicit Books

Republican State Senator Rick Brattin led the legislation – courtesy photo

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new Missouri law banning books with sexually explicit images from school libraries is about to go into effect.

Starting this week, it will be a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail or a $2,000 fine for librarians and other educators who give students access to this material.

The law does not apply to written descriptions of sex or sexual acts; only photos, drawings, videos and other visual representations are prohibited.

The law defines sexually explicit material as images “showing human masturbation, deviant sexual intercourse”, “intercourse, direct physical stimulation of the genitalia, sadomasochistic abuse” or showing human genitalia.

There are exceptions for anatomy, biology, sex education, art, and other images considered educational.

Melissa Corey, president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, said the law likely only applies to certain comics and graphic novels, which are longer comics.

Republican Senator Rick Brattin spearheaded the legislation, incorporating it into another bill aimed at protecting the rights of sexual assault victims. He initially proposed a broader ban that would have banned written descriptions of sex acts, but that was narrowed down in closed-door negotiations.

“When you go to read the definition of what’s prohibited — literal sexual acts, graphic human masturbation — those are things that fit into the definition, and people find it controversial that it should be in front of children,” Brattin said. “I’m really blown away by how controversial this has turned out to be.”

Democratic state senator Barbara Washington said Democrats tried to limit the scope of the law to save books such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel ‘The Bluest Eye’, which is not not prohibited by the new law.

“We have works of art and books of literature that may have things that may be offensive to some, but taken together wouldn’t necessarily be offensive,” Washington said.

Brattin cited “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” as a book he wants removed from schools under the new law. The graphic memoir focuses on author Alison Bechdel’s strained relationship with her late father and includes comic depictions of masturbation and oral sex.

Corey said it was unclear which books, if any, would be removed from Missouri school libraries. These decisions are made at the school district level, and she said schools have policies that outline the formal process for reviewing books that students can access.

Corey said the association has advised librarians to work with local school boards to better comply with the law, particularly the exceptions for art and biology.

“It ultimately depends on how the school board is going to interpret the legal counsel bill,” she said.

Librarians follow district-specific policies when deciding which books to offer Missouri students, Corey said. She said books are approved for different grade levels based on what educators deem age appropriate, which means high school students and kindergartners don’t have access to the same literature.

Corey said Missouri librarians want representation in literature and students “see themselves reflected in books.”

She cautioned against going too far in limiting the material students can access.

“When you’re considering questioning or revising a book, it really becomes a very slippery slope,” Corey said. “It’s something we really have to think about.”

The issue will likely resurface during the next legislative session, which begins in January. Brattin said written descriptions of sex acts are the next target for some Republicans.

“School districts absolutely need to be made aware that this will be the next attempt,” Brattin said. “Much of this material is literary.”

About Stuart M. McFarland

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