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Missouri rule would withhold funding from libraries displaying 'inappropriate' content for children

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Unsplash/Kimberly Farmer

A new rule proposed by Missouri's Republican secretary of state would withhold state funding from libraries that don't enact policies to shield minors from inappropriate content.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft proposed the rule last week. It will be formally published in the state register on Nov. 15, allowing residents to submit a public comment within 30 days. 

Under the proposed administrative rule, libraries that receive state funding must certify in writing that they will implement policies to ensure appropriate book selections for children under 18.

Libraries would also need to promise that state funds don't go toward purchasing sexually explicit material and that age-inappropriate content is not displayed in children's sections. 

In addition, libraries receiving state funds may not host or promote events that could be considered inappropriate for minors. The rule would also allow parents to determine which library materials their children could access, and each library would provide an outline online for parents to challenge specific book titles.

"Yes, we want to make sure libraries have the resources and materials they need for their constituents, but we also want our children to be 'children' a little longer than a pervasive culture many often dictate," Ashcroft said in a Monday statement.

"When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to," he added. "Foremost, we want to protect our children." 

The secretary of state's proposal has drawn pushback from some library directors and LGBT advocacy groups. 

Aaron Schekorra, who leads the LGBT group PFLAG Springfield, told The Springfield News-Leader that he fears the rule could be used to restrict books featuring LGBT characters and relationships even if there is no sexually explicit content in such books. 

"A lot of the times, this definition of sexual content or age-appropriate content is pretty broadly applied to just discussions or mentions of sexual orientation or gender identity," Schekorra said. "Because there's always been a constant effort to try and sexualize people's identities when it's not remotely about sexuality and sexual actions. It's about identities, it's about relationships and love."

The proposal comes amid ongoing concerns from parents nationwide regarding the types of materials children are exposed to in libraries, including the content in books and Drag Queen Story Hour events held at libraries nationwide.

Last month, the American Library Association released data that purportedly shows that efforts to ban or restrict book titles are rising. 

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the organization documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, aimed at 1,651 titles. More than 70% of the attempts sought to ban multiple titles. 

In a statement to The Associated Press, ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone said that the subjects of many of the challenged book titles were LGBT issues and racism.

Among the books criticized the most were Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer and Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy, which critics contend contain graphic sexual content and promote pedophilia.

Last year, one student's mother raised concerns about the sexually explicit material in the books during a Fairfax County Public School board meeting in Virginia. The mother, Stacy Langton, read aloud the sexual acts described in each book, arguing that the library containing such titles was not an oversight on the school's part. 

Another set of parents in Indiana voiced objections during a Carmel Clay School Board meeting last August. They oppose elementary and middle school libraries offering books with graphic sex scenes and titles that promote transgenderism. 

Last year, the Missouri state legislature sought to pass a bill to address parental concerns that would have restricted drag performers from reading to children in libraries. 

The bill, which failed to pass, was called the "Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act." According to The Kansas City Star, the legislation proposed withholding state funding or fining libraries that refused to remove age-inappropriate content. 

"In some places — St. Louis, Kansas City, and I think St. (Joseph) — they've had these Drag Queen Story Hours, and that's something that I take objection to, and I think a lot of parents do," the bill's sponsor, Missouri House Rep. Ben Baker, a Republican, said. 

"That's where in a public space, our kids could be exposed to something that's age-inappropriate. That's what I'm trying to tackle."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: samantha.kamman@christianpost.com.

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