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Tennessee Lawmaker Suggests Burning Banned Books

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

HB 2666/SB 2247 is headed to Tennessee governor Bill Lee’s desk for approval. The bill gives oversight to all material in school libraries to the state, as librarians will now be required to submit a list of every book in their collection to the Tennessee state library commissioner for approval. Materials must be age and maturity level appropriate for students, and then once approved by the state library commissioner, be submitted to a state-created committee for further approval. Until approved by that commission, students will not have access to material in their school library.

This draconian bill is among the dozens being implemented in states across the US that take the power of the professional librarian away from their job and puts collection development into the hands of lawmakers.

While debating the bill in the House, Democratic State Representative  John Ray Clemmons asked Republican State Representative Jerry Sexton what he would do with the books deemed “inappropriate” for the collection.

“I would burn them,” he said.

Book burning was a tactic employed during World War II to remove any material deemed inappropriate by the Nazi government, among other moments in history. It’s symbolic of authoritarianism and Sexton’s comment is a chilling reminder of what is at stake in this wave of book ban bills. Power is being removed from those trained and educated in library work and put into the hands of the government. Sexton believes there is no clear reason how certain books are getting into libraries to begin with.

Democratic Representative Gloria Johnson responded to Sexton’s comment later in the hearing, reminding him–and the rest of the lawmakers–how this has played out before.

“History hasn’t looked fondly on those who banned books or those who burn books. I’m not sure that’s who we want to be included with,” she said.

The new bill would allow any parents who are unhappy with books on the librarians’ lists to file a complaint. This would allow them to appeal to the state-created commission making determinations on the book’s place or removal from the library.

This bill is yet another in the line of educational gag orders over the past year meant to silence educators and keep them from teaching facts that create discomfort in certain political spheres. For school library workers, this bill will further open the door to unmitigated silent/quiet censorship.

Tennessee’s new law follows the passage of a similar book ban bill in Georgia earlier this week.