116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa’s Republican-controlled Legislature has advanced many bad ideas during the last several years. But legislation being proposed by two top Senate GOP leaders is downright chilling.
Senate President Jake Chapman recently attended a packed meeting of a committee in the Johnston School district addressing parent concerns about two books in the high school library. Some parents and Chapman believe the books, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie are inappropriate and obscene.
Chapman said he will seek to create a new felony offense for educators that disseminate obscene material. Sen. Brad Zaun, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee also supports such a move.
“My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail. Because this is distributing pornography,” Zaun said.
No such bill should see the light of day at the Statehouse.
Johnston is among a trio of central Iowa districts where a series of books are being challenged by conservatives. Some are by LGBTQ authors and feature passages about sex. Chapman and others have held up those excerpts as proof the books are obscene.
Iowa’s current obscenity law says works, taken as a whole, that lack “serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value” can be considered obscene material. It’s difficult to argue these books, some award-winning, fit into this category. The current law also includes an exemption for libraries and educational institutions.
These books may make Republican legislators uncomfortable, but it’s not about them. They’re on library shelves so LGBTQ students and others can find people like themselves in literature written by authors who have had experiences relevant to their own lives.
School district teachers and staff make decisions frequently about the appropriateness of books and other educational materials for different age groups. We trust their judgment and see no need for legislative intervention, or for turning the decision making process into a political circus.
But the proposal advocated by Chapman and Zaun goes beyond the issue of local control. They’re seriously considering prosecuting teachers and staff for simply providing access to books the lawmakers personally find unsuitable. Such a law would be a reckless power grab and an affront to free expression. Even the suggestion of it will likely prompt schools to think twice about diversifying their library collections for fear of political retribution.
No such bill should see the light of day at the Statehouse. Chapman and Zaun should be looking for ways to support and improve public schools instead of making education a crime.
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