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Tennessee bill bans 'obscene material' from K-12 schools

If a school district doesn't comply, then Tennessee's education commissioner may withhold funding

April 7, 2022 5:15pm

Updated: April 8, 2022 11:31am

The Tennessee Senate sent a bill to "summer study" that targets "obscene" books in K-12 public school libraries.

The bill would allow parents to report books they feel are harmful to their district's superintendent.

While schools in the state were previously excluded from an obscenity law, the bill, S.B. 1944, would remove the schools' exemption from the law that prohibits "showing obscene material to minors, while also holding schools accountable for the increasing reports of sexually explicit literature and images in school materials that parents have complained about to local school board members," The Epoch Times wrote.

The school would then be forced to remove the reported book "for 30 days to allow the school board to review the material to deem whether it was acceptable for students to read," News Channel 5 reported.

If a school district doesn't comply, then Tennessee's education commissioner would be able to withhold funding.

The bill passed the state House 63 to 24, but did not pass the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee with Democratic Sen. London Lamar of Memphis then asking for the bill to go to summer study.

"I would urge the committee not to do that," Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) said, according to the outlet. "This is a very clear problem we have with obscenity in the library. It's very narrow. I would urge them not to send it there."

The judiciary committee voted 6-3 to send the bill to summer study. 

Hamilton County School Board Member Rhonda Thurman told the Epoch Times that the bill focuses on what is considered to be pornographic material. 

"I was totally shocked that there were actually mothers, and ministers, who found all of this material to be perfectly acceptable for students," she told the outlet. 

"That’s probably been the biggest shock since my 17 years on the school board. There were actually mothers who said, ‘This is okay, and my child should be able to get this book at school,'" Thurman said.

State Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) expressed a similar point of view, News Channel 5 noted.

"Some of the materials that have been shown to me are further beyond what I would have expected to see," he said. "There are far worse examples. That's part of the dilemma here of where do you draw the line?"

Tennessee's ACLU agreed that the bill should be sent to summer study. 

"We applaud today’s vote to send this misguided, unnecessary bill to summer study," executive director Hedy Weinberg said, according to News Channel 5. "Obscene content is already prohibited in schools under the law, as it should be. This bill amounted to nothing more than unconstitutional censorship. All parents want schools where students are valued and accepted, and truthful education that sets kids up to succeed. Stopping this bill allows schools to continue creating a safe environment to talk about tough issues, supporting kids of all backgrounds."