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NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republicans introduced a bill last week to remove books deemed “obscene or harmful to minors” from school libraries. The proposed legislation would apply to all K-12 public schools in the state, including charter schools.

House Bill 1944 would amend current Tennessee law to include “shall not permit the making available of obscene material or material harmful to minors in school libraries controlled by the local education authority (LEA) or public school board”. Critics say the bill seeks to remove any material featuring LGBTQ+ themes, characters or storylines.

Occupational groups across the state were pushed back. “We believe that current school board policies, when followed, adequately address concerns raised by parents or guardians regarding books,” the Tennessee Association of School Librarians said in a statement released Friday.

Efforts to remove books deemed obscene or objectionable are led by the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a Florida-based far-right group. Last fall, the group wanted to remove books claiming a sophomore curriculum, which includes books about black civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was “un-American” and “anti-white” – but on a technical point.

Moms for Liberty had filed an 11-page complaint with the state, claiming that the “classbooks and teachers’ manuals reveal both explicit and implicit anti-American, anti-white and anti-Mexican teaching”, as The Tennessian reports.

At school board meetings, group members read aloud passages from books they are seeking to have removed, including those with LGBTQ+ themes.

The bill’s sponsors, Republicans, Representative Scott Cepicky of Culleoka and Senator Joey Hensley of Hohenwald declined to comment about the bill reported by Chalkbeat. However, Rep. Vincent Dixie, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus and sits on several education committees, mentioned the bubbling issue on Friday when presenting a online speech for his party ahead of the governor’s state of the state address on Monday.

“Instead of fighting over what books can be in the library, let’s fight to provide every class with the high-quality books and materials their students need to learn,” said Dixie, of Nashville.

The problem for those advocating the removal of books deemed obscene is the key question of how to define what makes material fall into this category.

“Even the Supreme Court has struggled to define what obscenity is and if the Supreme Court struggles with this, then school boards across the state will have a harder time,” Mark Finchum, Executive Director of the Tennessee Council for the Social Studies, which represents social studies teachers across Tennessee told Chalkbeat.

There has been growing momentum in conservative circles to ban LGBTQ+ books and themes, primarily in states and jurisdictions with a Republican majority in government or local school boards. This legislative action mirrors efforts in Texas, Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

The American Library Association (ALA) released a statement last December noting that the organization has documented 155 separate incidents of efforts to remove or ban books that focus on LGBTQ+ issues and books by Black or Black authors. that document the black experience or the experiences of other BIPOC people.

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