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Virginia Could Warn Parents About Sexually Explicit Books

Virginia is poised to become the first state that would allow parents a say in what books their children can and cannot read in public school, if it contains sexually explicit material. The bill, which has passed both houses, would require teachers to list anything in the curriculum that may be sensitive and give parents the choice to opt their children out. 

The push for a statewide law began when a mother in northern Virginia was concerned about material her high-school son, a senior, was reading for an advanced English class. The book was Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a Pulitzer prize winning classic about an escaped slave. The story deals with themes of trauma after rape. 

“The take of the American Library Association, and this is my own take as a parent too, is that the world sometimes can be dangerous, and has dangerous things in it,” said James LaRue, “But reading isn’t dangerous.”

LaRue is Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. He says the proposal, which would require teachers to find alternative material for students’ whose parents object, is a back door to censorship.

“A teacher might well say ‘Gee that’s a lot of extra work to teach this book even though it’s very good, so I’ll just stop teaching that book.’,” LaRue said. "And that’s what we call the chilling effect, that’s how books get disappeared from schools, there’s so much difficulty around using them.”

Proponents of the bill say schools already follow a similar procedure for sex-ed classes, and it’s a parent’s right to protect their children. Plus, they add, it doesn't ban any books -- only gives parents the option to opt out.

Senator Bill Carrico, a Republican from southwest Virginia, added during floor debate Tuesday that children, who are easily influenced, shouldn't be exposed to "evil" scenes of rape or incest

"That evil act is just like a kitten," Carrico said. "It may be playful and harmless in the beginning, but you feed that evil and it grows and grows. It's going to grow into a lion and then it's going to eat you." 

The kitten-into-a-lion metaphor continued when Senator Mamie Lock, a Democrat from Hampton, spoke against the bill -- which doesn't just apply to English classes.

"This bill is the kitten that is about to morph into a lion, because next year we're going to be seeing something else added on to this legislation that we're going to be bannig." said Mamie.

The bill cleared the House handily, and made it through the Senate on a close vote Tuesday afternoon. It now heads to the Governor’s desk. The Governor's office says they are still reviewing the measure. 

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