Jerry Sexton Says He’d Burn Books Amid Tennessee Library Bill Debate

Tennessee’s library bill raises new concerns as GOP sponsor says it would “burn” books deemed inappropriate.

A last-minute amendment to give a politically appointed textbook commission final approval of books in Tennessee school libraries sparked a protest on Capitol Hill and a heated debate in the General Assembly on Wednesday.

The legislation, HB 2666, passed the Senate earlier this month as a relatively straightforward bill to add members to the state’s textbook commission and task the commission with providing guidance. to schools when reviewing materials to ensure they are “appropriate for age and maturity levels”. students.

But the bill’s House sponsors sparked an uproar among some librarian and parent groups this week with an amendment that would require the commission to release a list of “approved” materials Tennessee schools could provide to students.

‘Shame on them’:Republican lawmaker blasts criticism of librarians amid heated book debate

On Wednesday morning, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, withdrew the controversial amendment requiring the commission to publish its own list of approved materials, but submitted a new version requiring the commission to review the collections of every school library in Tennessee. .

The commission would have the power to approve or reject entire collections or individual records under the bill.

The House and Senate versions now differ and must go to a conference committee to iron out the differences on a tight deadline, as lawmakers aim to adjourn the session by the end of the week.

Legislative leaders have repeatedly argued this session that they do not support blanket book bans or censorship, instead offering increased parental oversight for “age-appropriate” materials in school libraries.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga speaks with Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station ahead of a vote on his bill.  Sexton sponsored the Bible bill which the governor vetoed.  Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Nashville, TN

But during the House debate on Wednesday, Sexton suggested he would go further.

“I would burn them,” Sexton said of the books he considers inappropriate.

Republican lawmaker says he would ‘burn’ books he deems inappropriate

To some, the amendment looked like a last-minute power grab as the legislature aims to wrap up its session this week. This year, Republican leaders have backed several moves to increase oversight of school libraries amid repeated pressure from conservative groups on the issue.

House GOP Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, tried to walk back the rhetoric surrounding the issue earlier this spring, after conservative critics compared librarians to sexual predators during a debate on a law Project.

Republicans offered limited examples of inappropriate material available to Tennessee students, often mistaking books that deal with themes of sexuality or difficult topics such as rape as pornography.

Representative Gloria Johnson, pictured in 2019, opposes a Tennessee bill that would give additional power to a state textbook commission

Following his comment on the book burning, Sexton said Wednesday that he would not be part of the commission, so no book burning would take place.

“We don’t ban books, we just remove them from the library,” Sexton said.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said the legislation “shrinks the world for young people.”

“This bill is dangerous and it takes Tennessee in a dangerous direction,” Johnson said.

Librarians, students and parents worried about the bill

Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, said Wednesday he received repeated calls from librarians in his district about the bill, concerned about the previous amendment that would direct the commission to create a list for Tennessee schools to follow. .

Sexton said the textbook commission would only be concerned with the most egregious examples of objectionable materials.

But the bill does not include specific definitions beyond the requirement that materials be “appropriate” for the age and maturity level of students, giving the commission broad authority over school materials in the school. Tennessee.

The commission has previously courted controversy over some political appointees, including conservative activist Laurie Cardoza-Moore. Dozens of religious leaders called on House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to rescind the nomination because Cardoza-Moore was “anti-Muslim”, although Sexton moved forward with the nomination.

Williamson Strong, a Williamson County-based political action group supported by parents, staged a protest Wednesday morning against the bill. The opponents have cited global concern over library oversight bills and giving additional powers to the textbook commission.

Lindsay Hornick, a junior at Franklin High School in Williamson County, took time off from school Wednesday morning to protest.

Author Andrew Maraniss speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol's Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee, where library advocates protested a bill currently before state lawmakers Status on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

“I understand why parents are concerned about the content their children are learning. However, I come from a very open-minded household,” Hornick said. “My parents allow me to choose what I read and watch, and personally I think choosing my own literature has made me a more complete person. I would hate to see my education system limited by a council that has almost no diversity .”

Andrew Maraniss, New York Times bestselling author and Brentwood resident, called libraries the “best place” in any school.

“That’s where the kids had the chance to really be themselves, to discover new worlds, to discover new books, to see themselves reflected in the books and to learn about other types of people,” Maraniss said.

Contact Melissa Brown at mabrown@tennessean.com.

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