A panel of 12 political appointees in Nashville now has the power to remove books from school libraries and school curricula across the state, a move by Tennessee lawmakers.
The Age Appropriate Materials Act 2022 has been passed. She gave veto power to a new state commission on the quality of textbooks and instructional materials to review and act on complaints about books used as course materials and books available in school libraries.
“In a nutshell, the State Textbook Commission may, where a local education authority refuses to act to remove a book from a school library or from the curriculum, the Textbook Commission may remove it,” said said Cathy McCord Farley, executive director of the Tennessee Library. Association. “They can do that and not just remove it from this library, but they can remove it statewide. If they decide a book is inappropriate, it’s taken down statewide.
Farley spoke to the Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday.
Who is behind the book ban effort?
“We have aggressive people who have time and money in our state,” Farley said. “They are not librarians. Moms for Liberty is one of the active groups. The Tennessee Pastors Coalition is another active group. The most active Moms for Liberty chapter is in Williamson County. The Tennessee Pastors Coalition is based in Cookeville. One of their pastors burned a book just four months ago in Wilson County.
In February, Global Vision Bible Church pastor Greg Locke claimed the church had a “constitutional right and a biblical right” to burn “occult materials.” He urged fans to burn “evil trash” like young adult fantasy books, tarot cards and “voodoo dolls and crystals”. The books “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” were specifically burned.
“First, and most importantly, do your school libraries and local educational associations have obscene materials? No. No, we don’t,” Farley said. “We don’t have any obscene documents. Do you know what obscenity is? The United States Supreme Court defined it in 1973 in Miller v. California.
Miller’s test has three parts: 1) Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the work taken as a whole to appeal to lustful interest; 2) If the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner, conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and 3) If the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
“Just because you’re offended by something doesn’t make it obscene,” Farley said. “Let’s go back to the original question: do libraries have obscene documents? No. No, we don’t. How can I know? How can I stand here and tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that’s not the case? It’s already illegal. It is already a class D criminal sentence. It ranges from two to 12 years in prison. There are fines of up to $5,000.
So if obscene books can’t be found in libraries, then why did state legislators feel the need to legislate?
“The pendulum is swinging,” Farley said. “Burning issues, like freedom of reading and freedom of religion, live on a pendulum. The pendulum swings. I’m not going to play politics, but you know the way things are going in our state. It swings hard. Just when you think it’s swung as far as it can go, it sways a little harder.
Farley says virtue signage is to blame for the 2022 Age-Appropriate Materials Act. Virtue signaling, also called moral demagoguery, is the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or feelings intended to demonstrate one’s good character or moral correctness.
Which books are targeted?
In McMinn County, its school board voted unanimously to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from the eighth-grade curriculum for its inappropriate language, illustrations, and Holocaust theme.
“It’s a Holocaust graphic novel told by a survivor’s son,” Farley said. “It wasn’t on the teaching list. It was additional material that was on the program. He was removed from the list.
“Walk Two Moons,” an acclaimed 1994 novel, has been banned from Williamson County schools. Farley says the ban was pushed by Moms for Liberty because of its “depressing” nature.
What can be done?
“You can read because books unite us and censorship divides us,” Farley said. “It’s yet another way of dividing people and empowering opponents. Read and be informed enough to form your own opinion. Read, think and vote,” Farley says.
WCPI’s half-hour conversation with Farley and White County Public Library colleague Michael Hale will air on McMinnville Public Radio 91.3 this Tuesday, July 12 at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m. p.m. and Friday at 1 p.m. a m