The Tennessee Capitol is seen, Jan. 22, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Source: AP Photo/George Walker IV, File

Tennessee Lawmakers Propose Changes to How Books Get Removed from School Libraries

Kimberlee Kruesi READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Tennessee's Republican-controlled Statehouse is once again looking to tweak how books can be removed from school library shelves despite concerns that the latest proposal could result in the Bible being possibly banned.

The legislation is the latest development in the ongoing battle many conservative leaders have launched against school libraries across the U.S., where many have become suspicious of the materials provided to children – particularly targeting those that touch on racism and LGBTQ+ issues.

Two years ago, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed off on legislation requiring school libraries to post their contents online and regularly review their policies to make sure the materials are "age appropriate" and "suitable" for children.

The Republican then also approved a new appeals process for removing books from school libraries, allowing the state's textbook commission – made up of all political appointees – to have the ultimate say in whether a book can or can't stay in school libraries.

This year, Republican lawmakers are looking to overhaul the definition of "suitable" materials in library collections by defining that it must not contain "nudity or descriptions or depictions of sexual excitement, sexual conduct, excess violence, or sadomasochistic abuse for the age or maturity level of a student in any of the grades K-12" or materials that are "patently offensive."

The bill would then require local school boards to decide within 60 days when they receive a complaint about a book. If that doesn't happen, the person who made the complaint may take the issue immediately to the state's textbook commission.

However, the proposal's latest definitions have raised concern that previously innocuous materials could now face challenges.

"I'm curious, at what age group would the holy Bible be allowed in public schools?" asked Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro. "You cannot read the book of Samuel without significant discussions of rape, sexual excitement and bestiality. That's before you get into very explicit descriptions of violence."

Republican Sen. Joey Hensley argued that he thought the Bible would be appropriate at any age and downplayed any concerns about the new changes.

"This bill is not really changing the material in the law," Hensley said. "I don't think the Bible would be considered offensive to any age."

The Senate approved the legislation on a 22-4 vote. The proposal had previously passed the House chamber last year, but due to a small clerical error between the two versions, the bill must clear the House once more before it can head to Lee's desk.

by Kimberlee Kruesi

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