A Texas House of Representatives member has filed a bill that would prevent companies who provided schools with books that are deemed obscene from selling to public schools again.
The bill, submitted by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), proposes to have the Texas Education Agency (TEA) compile a list of vendors from which material determined to be obscene was purchased, forbidding any company on that list from continuing to sell any products to state-run schools.
“If a school district or open-enrollment charter school determines that a material in the catalog of a school library of the district or school is obscene,” the bill reads, “the district or school shall report to the agency … the material and the vendor from which the district or school purchased the material.”
“A school district or open-enrollment charter school may not purchase materials from a vendor on the list,” the bill stipulates.
To decide what type of material is or is not obscene, Rep. Shaheen relies on the definition already provided by Texas law, suggesting that it refers to anything that “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”
Furthermore, the legal definition also includes items with “patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, and sexual bestiality.”
The law also refers to “representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designated and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs.”
Furthermore, however, in order for something to be deemed legally obscene, it also must lack “serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.”
Rep. Shaheen, supporting his bill, claimed in a press release, “There is a growing attack on children, and I am committed to holding book vendors accountable who expose children to horrific materials that are intended to sexualize our vulnerable kids.”
“The indoctrination of innocent children with ideologies that are contrary to the ideals and values of our families will not be tolerated,” the representative continued. “I will continue to fight for the innocence of young children.”
Rep. Shaheen recounted to The Dallas Express that one of the books which led him to author the bill was the graphic novel Gender Queer. The book includes pictures of young people performing acts of oral sex and masturbation, as previously reported by The Dallas Express, leading it to become one of the most challenged books in America.
“I was inspired to hold vendors accountable who decide to send filth to Texas school children after a parent showed me a graphic novel of demons gang-raping women. It’s unacceptable and they will be held accountable,” Shaheen explained to The Dallas Express, referring to a different book.
However, the bill has been criticized by activist organizations who view removing allegedly obscene material as inappropriate censorship.
Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, conveyed to The Dallas Express that “The Texas Library Association believes that any concern about the content of specific books is best addressed through conversations between parents and educators, not through legislation.”
“Parents have always been, and will continue to be, valued partners in their children’s education,” she continued. “Librarians are tasked with providing materials to meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve, and a book that may not be right for one child’s needs may be perfect for another.”
“Attempting to create generalized laws banning books from communities in a state as diverse as Texas will be detrimental to the education of our children,” she concluded.
Will Creeley, the legal director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), told The Dallas Express, “It’s important the bill explicitly acknowledges and includes the state statutory definition of obscenity.”
“Obscenity is an exacting standard, and even material like Playboy Magazine does not meet the exacting definition of obscenity,” Creeley suggested. “So, it’s very hard to imagine anything in the school library meeting that definition.”
“The books that have been targeted in this unprecedented wave of book banning at public libraries across the county over the past year have considerable artistic, political, literary, or scientific value,” Creeley continued, pointing to a case in Virginia where a judge decided the book Gender Queer did not meet the legal requirement for obscenity.
“We’ve seen lots of calls for a lot of books to be yanked from a lot of school library shelves over claims of obscenity that don’t meet the constitutionally exacting definition of obscenity,” he claimed.
Creeley did go on to note, however, that “the material in school libraries, per librarians’ professional responsibilities, should be curated for age appropriateness.”
“There’s a meaningful difference between what should be in the library that my son and daughter who are 5 and 8 … may access in their library,” he clarified, “and what high school students who are old enough to drive and some old enough to fight and die for this country can expect to find.”