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Missouri GOP votes to slash state library funding over LGBTQ+ books

a book burning
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Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives have voted to defund their state’s libraries after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state for banning numerous LGBTQ+ books as “explicit sexual” materials.

The April 4 vote removed $4.5 million of state budget funding for libraries as well as “costs for diversity initiatives, childcare, and pre-kindergarten programs,” WCPT 820 Radio reported. The removal now requires an additional state house vote and state senate approval before heading to the governor’s desk to become law.

Missouri House Budget Committee leader Rep. Cody Smith (R) suggested slashing the funds in response to the ACLU’s lawsuit over S.B. 775, passed in June 2022. While S.B. 775 expanded the rights of sexual assault victims, state Sen. Rick Brattin (R) included an amendment that punished any school librarian who provides “sexually explicit material” to a student — whether inside or outside of a school building — with up to a $2,000 fine or a year in jail.

Brattin’s amendment defined “sexually explicit material” as any image depicting “human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse… sadomasochistic abuse, or… postpubertal human genitals.” While his amendment made exceptions for artistic, anthropological, science, and health texts, state schools largely disregarded this amendment and removed 300 titles in response to the law, the ACLU’s lawsuit stated.

“Many of the titles removed from Missouri schools are authored by or are about individuals who are minorities and/or identify as LGBTQ+” as well as human anatomy books and Holocaust history books, most of which don’t even contain anything fitting the law’s definition of “sexually explicit material,” the lawsuit states. Most libraries have removed these books without following their school districts’ official policies regarding book removal.

Not only does this violate free speech protections and restrict student access to information, the lawsuit contends, but it has also caused librarians, educators, administrators, parents, and others affiliated to fear “criminal penalties and employment repercussions,” even if they give a book to their own child or a friend outside of school settings.

The state already had laws banning the supply of pornographic materials to minors, the ACLU’s suit added. Furthermore, both the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) and the Missouri Library Association (MLA) already had media experts employed in schools to help choose age-appropriate educational materials. Both organizations have had to spend significant time and resources answering questions about the new law.

The ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of the MASL and MSL asked for a permanent injunction against the law. Smith mentioned the suit while suggesting the removal of the library’s annual government funding, saying that taxpayers shouldn’t “subsidize” the ACLU’s lawsuit. However, the ACLU is suing the state pro bono, meaning that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing it, the MLA said in a statement.

MLA’s statement adds, “State Aid helps libraries provide relevant collections, literacy-based programming, and technology resources to their communities. Our rural libraries rely the most heavily on this funding to serve their communities, and they will be crippled by this drastic budget cut.”

“This tactic, meant to bully MLA into submission, instead directly harms public libraries who rely on those funds, especially the smaller, more rural libraries,” the MLA wrote in a tweet.

State Rep. Peter Merideth (D) slammed Republicans, saying it was “not appropriate” to alter the state budget because they’re “mad that libraries are suing to question” censorship.

The free-speech organization PEN America has reported that school bans on LGBTQ+ books have been “escalating dramatically” over the last year. About one-third of the 1,586 books banned from schools nationwide have LGBTQ+ themes and characters.

These bans have largely come from Republican politicians, conservative school boards and so-called “parents’ rights” groups that have opposed such content as “woke… indoctrination” that’s “inappropriate” for school children.

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