Missouri law makes sharing “explicit” books with students a crime

Missouri law makes sharing “explicit” books with students a crime

A new law in Missouri targeting child sex trafficking and sexual assault also includes what critics are calling a book ban that restricts the types of reading materials educators can provide to minors. It goes into effect on August 28.

In recent years, a wide variety of books have been challenged or banned in some states for a range of reasons, including books deemed “explicit” or “obscene” for mentions of gender or sexuality, or because of their discussion of race and racism. The crusade to restrict these books is often led by Republican lawmakers.

In Missouri, Republican state Senator Holly Thompson Rehder introduced the anti-trafficking measure, SB 775, with Democratic co-sponsor state Senator Jill Schupp. The amendment targeting books was introduced by Republican state Sen. Rick Brattin.

Most of the law focuses on combating child sex trafficking, updating the state’s Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights and establishing the Statewide Council on Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Rehder said in a statement that those provisions “reflect common decency and consideration for the dignity of the survivor,” and that the measure aims to “ensure justice is done” in such cases.

“Survivors should expect to receive an appropriate forensic examination, and to be kept informed of the status of the evidence collected as the case proceeds,” Rehder said in a statement about the law. “Survivors should expect to be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse, and to receive reasonable protection from the offender.”

But an amendment added to the bill also makes it illegal for librarians and educators to provide “sexually explicit material” to minors. If a person affiliated with a private or public elementary or secondary school provides what is considered explicit sexual material to a student, it could be considered a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Brattin, who added the amendment, says the legislation protects students.

“In schools all across the country, we’ve seen this disgusting and inappropriate content making its way into our classrooms,” Brattin said in a statement. “Instead of recognizing this as the threat it is, some schools are actually fighting parents to protect this filth. The last place our children should be seeing pornography is in our schools.” He did not give examples of the type of content he referred to.

The American Library Association says banning books isn’t new, but the crusade ramped up in 2021, with more than 729 attempted bans of 1,597 individual books. Deborah Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, spoke to CBS News about the influx of state book bans last year.

Stone said books that are deemed explicit often “reflect the lives of LGBTQIA persons and families.” She said they are often targeted as “obscene” or “pornographic,” when they do not actually meet that definition.

“You might not be the audience, your child might not be the audience, but more often than not, there is an audience for the books and often they are desperately needed,” she said.

Stone said censorship that forbids the reading of a certain book is a violation of library users’ First Amendment rights. She also said every parent has a right to raise concerns about a book. “It’s part of the First Amendment as well, the right to petition,” she said.

ALA encourages libraries and school boards to hear concerns about books, but to also have a “reconsideration policy” in place that asks petitioners if they’ve actually read the book in its entirety and what the basis of their complaint is, Stone said.

The Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) encouraged school librarians to become familiar with the language in the new law, and to prepare for book challenges. Librarians are also encouraged to consult with their boards of education about school library materials on the basis of the new law.

CBS News has reached out to ALA and MASL for more comment about the law in Missouri and is awaiting response.

MASL has stood up to book bans in the past, writing a letter to the president of the school board in Independence, Missouri, in July after the book “Cats vs. Robots Volume 1: This is War” was banned in the school district.

“We are concerned that decisions made to remove or restrict could cause harm to the trust that children and their families have in the schools they attend, as well as the students’ ability to pursue inquiry and access materials,” the group wrote. “LGBTQ+ students need access to authentic representations of Queer experience to provide context for growing up in a predominantly ‘straight’ society, just as cis/heterosexual children benefit from perspectives from non-binary characters that help them empathize with and understand the broader scope of human experience.”

CBS News has reached out to several school districts to see how they are responding to the new law. A representative for Nixa Public Schools said: “We are currently reviewing the impact the new law will have on any materials in our district. We will be reviewing materials on a case-by-case basis as questions arise from parents or staff.”

CBS News has also reached out to Missouri state Senators Brattin, Rehder and Schupp and is awaiting response.

Caitlin O’Kane

Caitlin O’Kane is a digital content producer covering trending stories for CBS News and its good news brand, The Uplift.