The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is challenging a new state law that bans sexually explicit material from schools and has led to districts pulling hundreds of books from their shelves.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association, asks the Kansas City Circuit Court to strike down the law as unconstitutional. The ACLU filed the lawsuit against Jean Peters Baker in her capacity as Jackson County prosecutor and on behalf of all Missouri county prosecutors.
The law, which went into effect in late August, made it a crime to provide minors with sexually explicit visual material. Librarians or other school officials could face up to a year in prison or a $2,000 fine for violating the policy.
As the law went into effect, many librarians across the state went through their collections removing anything they thought might be considered criminal.
Under the law, the ACLU argues that school personnel are forced to choose between students’ First Amendment rights and prosecution.
“The law presents a specific danger to school librarians, but it also endangers the jobs and livelihoods of public and academic librarians who work with K-12 schools in various capacities,” said Joe Kohlburn of the Missouri Library Association. “Librarians have been undermined politically in this state for long enough, and fear of prosecution is a constant problem with keeping skilled professionals in Missouri, as well as bringing new people into the profession.”
In its lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the law violates educators’ due process rights because it uses vague language that calls on the government to overstep boundaries and fails to differentiate school employees’ official capacity from their personal capacity, leaving them open to repercussions. even more legal.
The law makes it illegal to provide students with visual representations of things considered sexually explicit, including genitalia and sexual acts. There are exceptions to the law for works of art or materials used in science courses.
Federal and state law already prohibit the supply of obscene and pornographic materials to minors, according to the lawsuit. Missouri school districts, he said, also have board-approved processes for choosing appropriate library materials.
“Our school librarians are professionally trained to review all books that are placed on our shelves and follow selection criteria approved by our school boards, ultimately, to curate a developmentally appropriate collection for each grade level with work,” said Melissa Corey, president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians. “One of our biggest concerns is not only looking at what is currently in our collection, but also the potential chilling effect on what we would buy in the future.”
The lawsuit claims the law prompted schools across Missouri to order hundreds of books removed from their shelves. Many of these books were written by or about minority or LGBTQ individuals, but they also include many graphic novels, human anatomy books, and Holocaust history books. The law has exceptions for art, anthropology and health, but librarians said they didn’t know where to draw the line.
In the St. Louis region, more than half of the books found by St. Louis Public Radio were immediately removed and were written by or about LGBTQ people or people of color. Corey said it makes it difficult to meet students’ needs.
“Ultimately, school librarians want to develop representative collections,” Corey said. “So we want to make sure we reflect our students’ experiences within the texts we have on the shelves of our school libraries.”
The ACLU sued the Independence School District in December after its school board banned a book that included a non-binary character. The lawsuit over the district’s policy to automatically remove a book from its shelves once it has been contested is pending.