NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The effort to take certain books off school shelves has been “supercharged” by state laws, according to research by PEN America.
Analysts at the nonpartisan literary expression group say Tennessee is one of the leaders in writing and passing this type of legislation.
“What we are seeing right now are new laws to intimidate people. We’ve seen laws to intimidate librarians. We’ve seen laws to intimidate teachers in a number of states,” said PEN America Director Jonathan Friedman. “The phenomenon of book bans has really gotten out of control. This isn’t even something where you can even count every single book from schools right now because so many books are being removed in droves.”
Friedman says Tennessee has been at the forefront of some of these efforts to ban books off school shelves en masse.
Last year, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill the “Age-Appropriate Materials Act,” which led to some teachers spending hours categorizing books on their classroom shelves and some decided to close off their class libraries altogether.
Tennessee also passed a law mandating the formation of a group of politically-appointed commissioners who were tasked with settling appeals to school board decisions of challenged books.
This year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that would allow publishers to be sued for knowingly selling “obscene” books to schools.
“Tennessee is at the vanguard of this in terms of taking such a law, passing it through the House and Senate and moving it to the Governor,” Friedman said.
Friedman says these types of laws create a “chilling effect” that is resulting in teachers and librarians removing books from shelves preemptively out of fear of lawsuits or backlash. He said this is different from strategies to remove books in the past, which were more focused on targeting one book at a time.
However, bill-sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn (R—Mt. Juliet) said this law is a simpler and more effective way to keep “obscene” books out of children’s reach.
| READ MORE | Latest headlines from Nashville and Davidson County
“It will be another tool to help ensure that there we don’t have the upset and the arguments at our school boards right now,” Lynn said on the House floor.
According to Friedman, there is a similar bill regarding publishers moving through the Texas legislature and Missouri law that makes it a crime to give minors sexually explicit books.
“I know in my school system they are looking at them one at a time and so far since the beginning of the year they have voted on three and they have many more,” Lynn said during debate on the bill.
According to a new analysis by the American Library Association, the books that are most likely to be targeted are those with LGBTQ+ themes and are often labeled as pornographic or containing sexual content.
Lynn’s bill passed out of the General Assembly and is now on Gov. Lee’s desk awaiting his signature.