And that’s not all: Library personnel could be fined up to $500 or jailed for up to a year if they “willfully” violate any provision of the legislation, should it become law, and libraries could lose all of their funding.
It’s that time of year again when more than half of the country’s state legislatures convene and a mountain of legislation is introduced by lawmakers. Much of it is unremarkable, but there are, every year, some bills that raise eyebrows — such as this one.
It’s the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, or House Bill 2044, which was introduced Jan. 8 into the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Ben Baker (R). He is a minister, missionary and former dean of students at Ozark Bible Institute and College, and, his biography says, also owns a small construction business that specializes in artisanal trim work.
Baker’s office did not immediately respond to a query about why he thinks such a law is necessary and why he believes jail is an appropriate penalty for library personnel who violate it.
But PEN America, a nonprofit that works to defend free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, had plenty to say.
“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.”
According to the proposed legislation, the parental review advisory board would be allowed to order any material “deemed to be age-inappropriate sexual material to be removed from public access by minors at the public library.” And any such order could not be reviewed by “the governing body of the public library, the state, or any political subdivision thereof.”
Tager also said: “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: