VICTORY: “Beloved Bill” Vetoed in Virginia

Beloved Toni MorrisonThe bill that never dies, the so-called “Beloved bill” in Virginia has been put down by Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has vetoed the latest attempt to attack reading materials in schools. CBLDF joined multiple letters in opposition to the overly-broad legislation.

This is the second time that Governor McAuliffe has had to veto the bill, which was resurrected as HB 2191 early this year. The bill would have required school districts to warn parents about educational materials containing undefined “sexually explicit” content, likely resulting in a chilling effect on curricula.

In his veto statement, Governor McAuliffe writes:

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 2191. This bill  would require schools to notify parents if their child is enrolled in a course in which the instructional materials or related academic activities include sexually explicit content or the potential for sexually explicit content. The legislation would also require teachers to provide alternative instructional materials if requested by a parent.

The Virginia Administrative Code specifies that “Local school boards shall be responsible for the selection and utilization of instructional materials.” The same section of the Administrative Code requires each local school board to have policies in place enabling parents to inspect all instructional materials and to challenge the inclusion of materials that might be considered “sensitive or controversial,” for any reason.

The Virginia Board of Education has examined this issue in recent years. In doing so, the Board engaged in lengthy and substantive conversations with school boards, teachers, parents and students. At the conclusion of its inquiry, the Board determined that existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instructional material is sufficient and that additional action would be unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process.

Because the Board of Education considered this issue in a broader and more complete context and deemed existing policies to be adequate, I believe House Bill 2191 is unwarranted.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Terence R. McAuliffe

The original bill, HB 516, was conceived in 2016 under pressure from a small group of parents led by the mother of a now college-aged student who was disturbed by the content of Toni Morrison’s Beloved when it was assigned to her son’s AP English class in 2015. The bill raised concerns that it created a biased perspective and could lead to the censorship of valued classics, including (but not limited to) Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, the Bible, and most works by William Shakespeare.

The bill passed both houses of the Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who wrote that it “lack[ed] flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.” After failing the legislative route, the bill was revived as a proposed administrative regulation before the Virginia Board of Education last fall. In late January the board rejected the regulation by a vote of 5-2, but it had already been filed once again as HB 2191.

Perhaps this third failure’s the charm, and we won’t see another legislative attempt to attack Beloved and other literature in Virginia. Regardless, we’ll keep an eye on the situation.

Previous coverage:

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2017 by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!