Thursday, April 20, 2023

Ban on ‘sexually explicit material’ in public school libraries advances in Texas House

A bill that would prohibit “sexually explicit materials” in schools, sanction vendors who supply those materials to schools, and require parents to opt their child in to being able to access “sexually relevant materials” in school has passed an initial vote on the House floor.

Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) introduced House Bill 900, the “READER Act,” which passed by a vote of 95 to 53. It will now need to pass again on a third reading Thursday before heading to the Senate.

During the House floor debate, Patterson fielded numerous questions from lawmakers. The main points of contention from opponents surrounded the definition of words like “explicit” and “relevant” in the bill, and the book vendor review process.

Additionally during the debate, three separate amendments were proposed, two of which failed.

Patterson proposed the one adopted amendment, with the aim to clarify what the “rating guidelines” for a rating agency and vendor would constitute.

Some details include performing a “contextual analysis” on the basis of “three principal factors”: “the explicitness or graphic nature” of sexual content, how often “sexual or excretory organs or activities” occur in the text, and whether that identified content “intentionally panders to, titillates, or shocks the reader.”

Multiple times during the floor debate, Patterson was asked about specific books that may fall under the definitions of the bill, including classic works of fiction like J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Patterson was clear that classic literature falling under the guidelines of the State Board of Education and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) would follow the same process of review and those agencies will continue to uphold the curriculum standards.

“Gender Queer,” a book about a gender dysphoric child that includes sexually explicit illustrations, was mentioned by Patterson as the catalyst for this bill.

“Gender Queer” is currently available in eight different Austin ISD libraries and continues to be the focus of debate over what constitutes sexually explicit content in school libraries.

Patterson recently went on a social media campaign to highlight some of the controversial books that have been on public school shelves and questions surrounding the necessity of his bill.

In a series of now-deleted tweets, Patterson provided examples of books like “Let’s Talk About It,” a book containing explicit illustrations of genitalia and sexual acts that has come under fire before, and “Goblin Slayer,” a book that includes a graphic depiction of sexual assault, as examples Patterson has pointed to that emphasize the necessity of his bill.

The “READER Act” will now wait for a final vote on the House floor before being sent to the Senate.

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