Block of TX’s Sexually Explicit Book Law Upheld

sexually explicit
Person grabbing book | Image by DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

A state law requiring book vendors to assign ratings to books based on their sexually explicit content in order to sell them to Texas public schools was put on indefinite hold on Wednesday.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on January 17 to uphold a lower court’s decision to block the Texas Education Agency from enforcing a law on book ratings on constitutional grounds. House Bill 900 was written by state Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) with the aim of requiring publishers to designate books as containing either sexually relevant or sexually explicit content (if applicable). It was to come into effect last September.

Referring to the broad understanding of what might be considered relevant or irrelevant sexual material, the appeals court ruling stated, “The ratings [HB 900] requires are neither factual nor uncontroversial,” according to The Texas Tribune. As such, it agreed that the proposed rating system would have forced book vendors to support a certain view and thus was in violation of their First Amendment rights.

As previously covered in The Dallas Express, several book vendors filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the law was unduly burdensome, logistically unattainable, and risked pushing some businesses out of the public school market.

“What might be sexually relevant to one vendor could be sexually explicit to another, and yet another vendor may not feel like the book needs to be rated in either of those categories,” said Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, according to CNN.

Yet the move to create and enforce a rating system came after parents discovered sexually explicit material in books shelved in school libraries.

“We went to war to try to get these books removed, any of them removed, that are obscene in nature, and in content, you know, it’s not about the characters or the stories or the storylines, but about the content that is just radically vulgar and obscene,” said Patterson, according to NBC 5 DFW.

At Dallas ISD, books like Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen, which apparently has a passage describing how a young boy learned to seduce an adult into having anal sex, were flagged as inappropriately crude and even pornographic by stakeholders, as previously covered in The Dallas Express.

Patterson said that the fight for the book rating law is not over.

“That’s why you have an appeals process in the legal system because they don’t always get it right. And, you know, we had a number of attorneys review this material, review the bill, work with us on crafting this legislation. We use multiple Supreme Court cases in the crafting of this bill,” he said, per WFAA.

In the meantime, several school districts, such as McKinney ISD, have enacted their own policies for reviewing and regulating their library collections for inappropriate material in the wake of this controversy.

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