Librarians, ACLU Sue To Keep ‘Sexually Explicit’ Books In Schools

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Missouri librarians are challenging a state law which bars sexually explicit books from being in the classroom, according to a lawsuit.

Under Missouri law, if a librarian provides minors with sexually explicit material they can be fined $2,000 and serve up to a year in jail. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association alleging that the law is a violation of the First Amendment and has caused hundreds of books to be removed from schools. (RELATED: Here’s What’s In The ‘Obscene’ Books Being Removed From Schools Across The Country)

“The uncertainty caused by [the law] has caused library professionals, educators and administrators to self-censor when they consider the selection and retention of materials and titles for library and curricular collections,” the lawsuit alleged.

Schools are allegedly removing books with the exception of “works of art, when taken as a whole, that have serious artistic significance, or works of anthropological significance, or materials used in science courses, including but not limited to materials used in biology, anatomy, physiology, and sexual education classes,” the lawsuit stated.

“The problem with this law is its loose definition of ‘sexually explicit material’ that goes far beyond pornography with no discernible bound, leaving government agents to decide on whether something is illegal,” Tom Bastian, deputy director for communications for Missouri ACLU told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Librarians have to guess what someone from the government will think about a book in the future, and, if they guess wrong, they can be thrown in jail. The ACLU of Missouri believes parents and professional educators should be making these decisions; instead, politicians are trying to scare schools into banning books, even those that parents want their children to read.”

As of November 2022, 300 book titles including “graphic novels” and “human anatomy books” were allegedly removed from Missouri libraries and schools in an effort to comply with the law, lawsuit stated.

“The law creates fear through the threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines leaving school districts faced with the ostensible legal dilemma of protecting their staff against potential prosecution or upholding the students’ First Amendment rights,” a press release stated.

The law infers that “trained library professionals are not capable of curating a library collection that eliminates obscene materials,” the lawsuit alleged.

“How it gets defined obviously matters, but I think the general premise that keeping explicit content out of libraries and out of the view of minors and public spaces is a violation of the First Amendment is a pretty extreme view, in my opinion,” Republican Missouri Sen. Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told the Springfield News-Leader.

Election workers check in voters at a polling place on November 4, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. In last Aprils election only 1,484 of Ferguson's 12,096 registered voters cast ballots. Community leaders are hoping for a much higher turnout for this election. Following riots sparked by the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, residents of this majority black community on the outskirts of St. Louis have re-examined race relations in the region and hope to take a more active role in the region's politics. Two-thirds of Fergusons population is African American, but five of its six city council members are white, as is its mayor, six of seven school board members and 50 of its 53 police officers. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Election workers check in voters at a polling place on November 4, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. In last Aprils election only 1,484 of Ferguson’s 12,096 registered voters cast ballots. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“School librarians in Missouri serve as trained, certified experts when curating developmentally appropriate collections for our students,” Melissa Corey, president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, said in a press release. “This statute has created a chilling effect on school library collection development, resulting in fewer representative books within our collections, due to fear of prosecution.”

This article has been updated with comment from the Missouri ACLU.

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