North Texas Daily

New Texas bill targeting library content is subjective, invites censorship

New Texas bill targeting library content is subjective, invites censorship

New Texas bill targeting library content is subjective, invites censorship
April 29
13:00 2023

This month the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 13, which advocates for the prohibition of “profane content” from school libraries, among other measures. Subjective definitions within the bill open the door for censorship that could harm Texas communities.

Sen. Angela Paxton led the authorship of the bill, which passed an 18-12 vote on April 13. While Paxton champions the bill to protect children from grotesque literature in school libraries, anyone who has stepped foot in a school library should know that inappropriate literature seldom exists on school library shelves.

If you visit a school library, you will see selections a school librarian deems fit for the students. Trips to the library in elementary school make a perfect opportunity to scan titles and look for the next “Magic Tree House” or “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” In high school, those that read for fun have cultivated their preferred genre and might gravitate toward a new novel or bestselling classic. SB 13 aims to solve a problem that does not exist and could create new problems.

The bill offers scarily subjective definitions. “Profane content” is defined in the bill as “content that includes grossly offensive language that is considered a public nuisance.” “Indecent content” is defined as “content that portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that is patently offensive.” The books that fall under those guidelines might differ mightily, depending on one’s perspective.

The discourse of book banning tends to focus on elementary-age children, but these policies affect high school students too. Many of them read at a higher level and can even digest adult literature. Having worked at a Fort Worth ISD high school, I know that checking out library books is not typical of many students. At a time when technology and phone addiction threaten teenagers’ mental health, any student who uses library resources should be supported.

SB 13 requires each school district to create a local school library advisory council to review all books before they are added to the library and ensure books follow the new guidelines. This council could add red tape to the process, delaying the acquisition of new books or dissuading book donations.

“This bill seeks to ensure that all students, regardless of their school or school district, can safely enjoy a school library that adheres to these best and safe practices,” Sen. Paxton said of her bill in a Senate committee on education.

Lawmakers are forgetting the role of parents in their child’s reading. Parents should decide what material is appropriate for their child, not advisory boards and politicians.

Paxton’s bill joins a wave of other measures across the nation targeting school libraries. Florida’s House Bill 1467 created controversy as schools pulled books off shelves to ensure they were in cooperation with Florida law, lest they face a third-degree felony charge. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry launched a tip line in November where citizens can report inappropriate library materials.

Paxton’s championing against harmful materials seems to be coded language aiming to silence LGBTQ+ and minority voices, keeping children from accessing these types of material. By referring to these types of books as sexually explicit, these lawmakers attempt to create fear and assert a moral high ground.

In Jeff Landry’s 54-page report titled, “Protecting Innocence,” he lists nine books as examples of sexually explicit materials. Seven of the nine contain LGBTQ+ storylines.

An overlooked stakeholder in book-banning conversations is the authors of banned books, who may miss out on profits and future book deals when their titles are removed from shelves.

Bestselling author Judy Blume described feeling dejected and alone as people attempted to ban some of her books in the 1990s, such as “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Some criticized the book’s approach to topics like puberty and menstruation. “Where we are today is so much worse,” Blume said.

As a famous author, having your book banned is one thing, but it can be crushing for lesser-known writers. Elana K. Arnold said her book sales plummeted when her books, “Red Hood” and “What Girls Are Made Of,” were removed from shelves.

To become law, SB 13 would need to pass a House vote and be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. From Bradbury’s classic, “Fahrenheit 451,” to Celeste Ng’s newest novel, “Our Missing Hearts,” books have warned about censorship’s dangers for decades. Perhaps, lawmakers should read them.

Featured Illustration by Emaan Noorzaie

About Author

Jack Moraglia

Jack Moraglia

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