'Don't Give an Inch on This': GOP Senators Read Sex Scenes from Youth Books to Make Their Point
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The fight over allowing sexually explicit books in schools spilled into the halls of Congress Tuesday as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing spotlighted so-called book "bans", an issue that has become highly partisan.
Republicans argued for age-appropriate protections against some books, highlighting the explicit nature of some books available to children in public schools and libraries.
"This is not a ban. This is about schools deciding what's appropriate for school children, and sexually explicit, obscene, pornographic material isn't appropriate and many parents are legitimately concerned about that," Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) explained.
Many parents agree. The American Library Association said book challenges in the U.S. nearly doubled in 2022 over challenges in 2021.
"I am suspect of these books being taken out of libraries and schools because I started seeing books that had been there, not just for years, but for decades, literally generations, 25, 30, 40-year-old books on shelves suddenly being taken off," Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said.
Booker contends that Congress has little if any, role in a debate over age-appropriate books in schools. "We will make no laws addressing this," he said.
Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and other Democrats also argued parents' rights should only be for their own children.
But Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said, "It is not evil to want to be involved in your child's education. Every time a parent is falsely accused of wanting to ban a book because of a reasonable concern about subject matter appropriateness, neighbors are pitted against each other."
Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias agreed with Durbin, telling the panel, that he "could never imagine" telling a parent what their child should be allowed to read.
"Book banners say they want 'local control,'" Giannoulias said. "What's more local than controlling what takes place in your own household?"
Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) responded to Giannoulias' statements to the committee, asking "Are you telling taxpayers of this country to shut up?"
Graham said governors, local leaders, and parents have a right to make sure "agendas are not being pushed" on children.
"Don't give an inch on this," he said.
During the hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) read some select pages from a couple of explicit books into the congressional record, including a paragraph from the books All Boys Aren't Blue and Gender Queer: A Memoir, which have been opposed by parents' organizations all over the country.
Giannoulias responded by saying, "Those words are disturbing coming from your mouth."
One critic named Julia said that reaction just proves the point. "Those words would be disturbing coming from anyone's mouth—and especially being read by children. So why can't parents have them removed from school libraries?" she stated on the social media site X.
As a society, we don’t put Playboy in kindergartens; this isn’t considered a “book ban,” but merely common sense.— Nicki Neily (@nickineily) September 13, 2023
Stop demonizing parents for wanting age-appropriate material in their children’s schools! pic.twitter.com/uZ19HGWoeu
Research Fellow Gives Assessment: 'Books Aren't Being Banned'
In his opening statement before the committee, Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said, "To put it bluntly, books aren't being banned..."
"The media keeps using the word 'banned,' but that word doesn't mean what you think it means. In common usage, 'banned' means 'made unavailable.' Yet the most banned Gender Queer is still available on Amazon. The same can't be said for Ryan Anderson's When Harry Became Sally. Only books on one side of that issue it seems, actually get banned," Eden explained.
"Rather, this conversation focuses on school library availability. If ban means made unavailable, then virtually every book ever published has been effectively banned in school libraries. But that's not even what this word means here," he said. "Indeed, a book can be both banned and totally available in a school library. That's because the media has accepted the expansive definition of ban offered by Pen America."
Pen America is a nonprofit organization that maintains a list of books being banned in schools across the country. But Eden gave examples to the committee of what being banned means to the organization.
"If a book has been taken off of shelves, reviewed, and then placed back on the shelves, it has, according to Pen, been banned. If a school places parental permission requirement on a book, it has, according to Pen, been banned. If a school moves a book to a guidance counselor's office, it has, according to Pen, been banned," the American Enterprise Institute research fellow explained.
Eden said the nonprofit incorrectly likens the above actions to Nazi Germany.
He told the committee that he and a few of his colleagues from The Heritage Foundation decided to see how many of the 2,532 books in Pen's 2022 report that were labeled as banned, were actually removed from school libraries.
"We did this with one simple trick. We checked the card catalog," he told the senators. "As it turns out, nearly three-quarters of the books that Pen labeled as banned were still in school libraries."
"Careful analysis also belies the claim that books are being banned because of race or LGBT issues. Whereas Pen labels the Black Lives Matter inspired The Hate You Give as the fifth most-banned book, we found it available in every single school library in question," Eden testified. "And when The Washington Post examined over a thousand review requests made by parents, less than 7% mentioned LGBT without also containing the word 'sexual,' although those requests may have contained words like 'pornographic,' or 'obscene.'"
"And that's what this issue is really about, the provision of sexually explicit material to children by public employees," he said.
Sen. Durbin said, "No one is advocating for sexually explicit content to be available in an elementary school library or in the children's section of the library. That is a distraction from the real challenge."
"I understand and respect that parents may choose to limit what their children read, especially at younger ages. My wife and I did. Others do, too. But no parent should have the right to tell another parent's child what they can and cannot read in school or at home. Every student deserves access to books that reflect their experiences and help them better understand who they are," Durbin said.
Later, Neily told Durbin that his argument and other Democrats' arguments during the hearing were the real distraction to the issue.
"Pretending that objections to minors accessing explicit sexual content is a threat to liberty and literature is a straw man," she said.
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