Missouri bill proposes 'parental library review boards' that could land librarians in jail

A new bill proposed in Missouri aims to prevent inappropriate sexual content from getting into the hands of kids, but critics are warning it amounts to censoring and could land public librarians in jail.

The bill was introduced earlier this month by Missouri state Rep. Ben Baker (R), who has argued that the measure is meant to protect children when they visit their public libraries.

“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.”

The bill would ban libraries that receive state funding from allowing minors access to "age-inappropriate sexual material." To identify what that content is, the bill would include the creation of "parental library review boards" made up of five locally elected community members. The boards would then review what content it considers appropriate.

Under the bill, librarians who "willfully" violate the rule could be fined $500 or face up to a year in jail.

ADVERTISEMENT

Critics warn, however, that the bill amounts to censorship. PEN America's deputy director of free expression research and policy, James Tager, said in a statement to The Washington Post that the policy was an attempt at "book banning."

“This is a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri,” Tager told the Post. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries. Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault — all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”

Tager went on to say that “every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill."

In his interview with KOAM, Baker addressed critics, saying his measure would not entirely ban books from the library but would only keep them out of the children's section.

“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."