By Sarah Quale— On January 8, 2020, Missouri Rep. Ben Baker introduced the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act to protect minors from age-inappropriate, sexually explicit materials and events at libraries. The opposition to this bill has been swift, strong, and full of misinformation, even death threats. It’s time to clear things up.
Missouri House Bill 2044, the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, empowers parents in local communities to protect children from their increasing exposure to age-inappropriate, sexually charged, and/or sexually explicit concepts, materials, and events in public libraries.
HB 2044 is based on model legislation developed by the Personhood Alliance, which is now being considered in many states across the country. The model is a response to growing calls from parents and community members to address age-inappropriate sexual materials and events in publicly funded libraries, particularly the drag queen story hour (DQSH) phenomenon sweeping America.
Up to this point, parents and concerned community members have not been able to exert any significant level of control over local library boards, city councils, or county commissioning bodies. This is because the vast majority are either allied with the American Library Association (ALA), which promotes DQSHs and pushes sexually inappropriate materials into libraries, or are afraid of being sued for violating freedom of speech and the “freedom to read.”
Supporters of age-inappropriate sexual materials and events have successfully shielded themselves with First Amendment arguments—so successfully, that for years now, no one has been willing or able to address this situation. Parents, concerned citizens, and local and state officials are frustrated, feeling like their hands are tied while the sexualization of children trumps their safety.
The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act offers a solution.
What does the legislation actually do?
It creates a parental library review board.
Under the current constitutional standard for determining what is obscene or harmful to minors, state courts recognize a variable standard of obscenity that is determined primarily at the community level. For example, Louisiana’s sex education law gives parental review committees oversight of sex education materials for public schools. Similarly, in the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, parents on the review board are elected from the community, empowered to hold public hearings, and given authority to render final decisions on public concerns as to the library’s offering of sexually charged or age-inappropriate materials and events to minors.
It uses parents as the natural “filter” and enforces their decision using state aid to libraries.
Under the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000, which was challenged unsuccessfully by the ALA and Planned Parenthood in the US Supreme Court, Congress requires states (which all receive federal grants for library funding) to use online filtering services in order to block obscene and pornographic material on library computers. Whereas the federal law mandates the use of internet filters from technology companies, this model state legislation uses parents to determine the local standard for material that is obscene or age-inappropriate. The state can then enforce the decision by conditioning state aid on meeting the requirements of the law.
Empowering parents to make the determination of what is considered age-inappropriate at the local level:
- Does not limit constitutionally protected speech or the “freedom to read”
- Allows scientific research on issues of sexuality and gender to be fairly considered during review of materials and events
- Does not target any predetermined point of view
- Only targets those materials that local parents on a locally elected board determine are harmful to the community’s children, through the public hearing process
But according to Missouri Rep. Ben Baker, who introduced this legislation in Missouri:
“The biggest problem is the false narrative that the media has created. They have not been objective with the story and the headlines are misleading, so people just run with that rather than actually reading the bill and finding out what it actually would do.”
Rep. Baker also revealed on Twitter that he and his family have received death threats.
“I have received several death threats for me and my wife and four daughters. Some of the threats were from as far away as Australia. Most of the negative has been outside the state and what has been from Missouri has been outside of my district. I think most sane thinking people can agree that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Who is opposing this effort?
Opposition to this legislation includes the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which issued a press release on Missouri’s bill, the Freedom to Read Foundation and its state-level committees, the Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Roundtable. As part of the ALA, these entities have activated librarians, library board members, LGBTQ book authors, lobbying organizations, and political activists against this legislation. Liberal and conservative media have aided in promoting false claims that this legislation bans books, unconstitutionally limits speech, forces authoritarian censorship, jails librarians, and puts LGBTQ youth at higher risk for suicide.
But the bottom line is this: Those who are opposing this solution are opposing the protection of minors from being exposed to age-inappropriate sexual materials and events.
Dispelling the major myths
Is this a violation of First Amendment free speech?
No one’s freedom of speech or “freedom to read” is violated by this bill. This bill protects children from access to age-inappropriate and sexually explicit materials and events. These things would simply not be available to minors or be displayed in the parts of the public library where minors are present.
Isn’t this censorship?
The only thing that’s being censored is children’s access to age-inappropriate and sexually explicit materials in publicly-funded libraries, which is more accurately called protection and accountability.
Is this unconstitutional?
No. The federal Child Internet Protection Act of 2000, which held up to a US Supreme Court challenge by the American Library Association and Planned Parenthood, already requires libraries to block obscenity on computers or lose funding. This bill simply makes local parents the filter and the consequence the same. The US Supreme Court also ruled in Ginsberg v. New York that it is indeed constitutional for states to make laws that prioritize and uphold parental rights when it comes to objectionable material. The Court agreed that the standard for what is objectionable belongs at the local level.
Does this legislation ban books?
Not at all. Any materials that a parental review board decides, with community input, are inappropriate for minors to access would still be available to adults to check out and provide to their children if they chose to do so.
Will librarians be thrown in jail?
The Missouri bill’s penalty is a misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $500 and may include up to 1 year in jail, though it’s very unlikely librarians would ever be incarcerated. It’s important to note that the misdemeanor penalty is the same as what’s currently in place at the federal level for any staff that willfully neglect to install obscenity filters on library computers available to minors. It’s perfectly appropriate to penalize those who ignore the wishes of the community regarding materials or events available for children to view in a public space.
The current law in Missouri on disseminating objectionable sexual material to minors, outside of the library context, is actually a felony. This is a much stricter penalty than what Missouri’s Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act calls for. The Personhood Alliance’s model legislation is written to allow states to decide what level of penalty to attach to the law.
Isn’t this just more government overreach?
No, it’s the opposite. This bill returns the power to the local community and the parents to determine the appropriateness of materials and events for minors. Right now, these determinations are made by taxpayer-funded, often-unaccountable library boards and national advocacy organizations.
Does this put LGBTQ youth in danger?
Giving any child access to age-inappropriate or sexually explicit materials and teaching them such concepts puts them in danger. All children deserve to be protected, and parents and the local community are natural gatekeepers for the protection of children.
What parents and citizens can do
Here are several things parents and concerned citizens can do right now to leverage the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act as a solution:
- First of all, please pray and consider these intentions:
- For protection for Rep. Baker and his family and for leaders in other states to have the courage to move this forward
- For the children who are being exposed to inappropriate sexual materials and events; that God will reveal his perfect design for their sexuality
- For those who are lost and imprisoned by the lies of the Enemy and are used by him to destroy God’s design
- For all of us at the Personhood Alliance as we discern God’s timing, seek wisdom, and move forward to glorify Him
- Sign our petition with LifeSiteNews to tell Rep. Ben Baker that you support him, especially as he stands against death threats. We will deliver this petition directly to him and reference it in every state that’s considering this model. The more signatures, the greater the encouragement!
- If you are a legislator, staff person, volunteer, or community activist, please consider moving this legislation forward in your state. Sessions are still open in most states, but filing deadlines are looming. Legislators can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more and receive the Personhood Alliance’s model legislation information packet.
- Share this article to inform people on both sides of the issue.
- Use the talking points in this article to educate people on this effort, on social media and in your personal conversations.
- In the future, if you are in a state where this legislation becomes law, run for election to the parental library review board in your city or county.
If there were ever an opportunity to have a direct impact at the local level to protect our children from oversexualization, it’s this one.
Help us get the truth out there. The opposition thrives on misinformation. Let’s work together to return the power to local level; to parents who can protect children in their own communities.
Sarah Quale is president of Personhood Alliance Education, founder of Educe® online learning, and author of the Foundations online pro-life curriculum. She is an award-winning curriculum and instructional designer who has worked for over 20 years in corporate, academic, and ministerial environments. Sarah is a member of the International Christian Visual Media Association and Christian Women in Media.