Last night, I came across a petition going around the Internet in response to a bill that has just been presented in Missouri. House Bill 2044, presented by Republican state Representative Ben Baker, is supposedly aiming to “prevent inappropriate sexual content from getting into the hands of kids” by requiring all libraries that receive state funding to have five person “parental library review boards”. The boards would be made up of locally elected officials, who would review content available to children and determine whether or not it’s “appropriate”. The bill also bans state funded libraries from allowing minors to access “age inappropriate” materials. And any librarian that willfully violates the law could be subject to a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.
I was pretty disgusted by the bill, especially since, when I was growing up, I read a lot of stuff that would have been deemed “age inappropriate” by some people. I have always been a reader, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who let me read pretty much whatever I wanted without any interference. If I’m honest, my parents mostly didn’t care what I read and would not have wanted to be bothered with giving their permission to read certain books. Under this proposal, I might have been barred from reading certain books, not because my parents objected, but because they weren’t that interested.
I think that ideally, the people who should be determining what is, and what is not, age appropriate reading for their children are parents, not elected officials, who may be pushing their own agendas. In a state like Missouri, my guess is that the boards would consist of a lot of religious right wing types… you know, the ones who say the government needs to butt out of everyone’s private business (unless it involves a uterus and a developing embryo, that is).
Mr. Baker apparently thinks this measure is necessary, even though librarians already go through extensive training to determine what is and what is not “appropriate” for library collections. The five elected officials on a “parental library review board” are unlikely to have any special training regarding reading materials, but they probably will have their own attitudes and agendas to push.
“The main thing is I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker told local news station KOAM. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.”
Um… Mr. Baker– as a parent, you are ultimately responsible for making sure your kids are not “gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material.” It’s not for you or anyone else to determine what is objectionable or unsafe reading for other people’s children. Stay in your lane.
Some people have already expressed outrage over this bill, but Mr. Baker stubbornly argues,
“If the adult wanted to, and said I’m okay with my child reading this or looking at this, then they could check that out, and have that available for their child,” Baker argued. “I just think that we need to be careful about funding something with our taxpayer dollars without parental consent.”
So it should be up to your Republican buddies to make those decisions for everyone and they alone should determine what should be in the children’s section? The ones who think gays and lesbians and transgendered people are mentally ill and going to Hell? The ones who promote abstinence education, even though it doesn’t work (just check the teen pregnancy and STI statistics in Republican states where sex education consists solely of abstinence education)? The ones who want to push a Christian agenda in public schools by forcing everyone to pray, and eliminating any discussion of evolution over creationism? And what if some of those “elected officials” turn out to be more liberal than the others and “objectionable material” (by your standards) still slips into the children’s section? Yeah… that sounds like a fine plan for the 21st century. NOT.
I can’t wrap my head around this. We have so many other issues that are far more pressing than book banning in a country that is supposed to be all about freedom of expression. Hell… today’s American school children have to worry about whether or not they’ll survive the school day. Reading a book that might be slightly out of their age range or understanding isn’t the end of the world.
But, as Mr. Baker is “a minister, missionary and former dean of students at Ozark Bible Institute and College”, I guess I can see where his limited world view comes from. I’m sure he’s got no problem with children being exposed to guns and would rather see a couple dozen of them mowed down at school in the name of protecting gun rights than he would want to have them learn about different lifestyles, religious beliefs, and alternative sexual preferences through reading. God forbid we actually teach children to be Christ-like– you know, kind, loving, accepting, forgiving, compassionate, understanding and non-judgmental.
Even though Republicans claim to be about saving taxpayers’ money, they don’t seem to have the tiniest issue with throwing people in jail for non-violent offenses, even though it costs a lot of money to warehouse inmates and affects their ability to earn a living for the rest of their lives. Incarceration also affects their families– especially their children— on many levels! Does Mr. Baker really think it’s worth jailing a highly educated librarian, potentially ruining his or her career, over a young person reading a book like Lady Chatterly’s Lover or Slaughterhouse Five against the elected officials’ wishes? Incidentally, it’s been my experience that kids who really want to read something will find a way to do it. Amazon delivers, y’all… straight to the Kindle, even.
I understand that many Americans think that religious people, particularly those who swing to the right of the political spectrum, are the only type of people who should be making our laws. I guess that being outside of the United States for several years, in a place where religion isn’t the end all be all of all things, has shown me that some people in the United States could really use a mental enema and a trip or two abroad. In any case, I’m sure it’s clear what I think of Mr. Baker’s desire to censor things that offend his tender Republican religious sensibilities. I know some people think religion is a wonderful thing, but the older I get, the more I think that many super religious people should be completely barred from politics.
Bottom line– kids should be encouraged to read as much as they can. And they should have the freedom to read whatever interests them, ideally with parental guidance of course. And it should NOT be up to a group of “five elected officials” who have NO TRAINING whatsoever in library science, but plenty of political and religious agendas, to determine what is “acceptable” for children to read. Republicans are always crowing about how child rearing decisions should be “up to the parents”. Well, this issue is no different. Let parents decide what their kids are allowed to read and trained librarians determine which books belong in the children’s section. “Elected officials” with an obvious religious agenda should stay out of that decision.