Journalist Uncovers Censorship Attempts in Missouri Schools and Libraries

The Hate U GiveThe recent challenge to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give in Springfield, Missouri, inspired a local journalist to dig into attempts to remove content in schools and libraries in the state.

In her research, Claudette Riley of the Springfield News-Leader uncovered 36 censorship incidents in the state, including attempts to remove 26 books, since 2014. The material was challenged most frequently for profanity, racism, sexuality (LGBTQ content in particular), and suicide.

Riley compiled a list of some of the challenged works. Some, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and It’s Perfectly Normal, are books that CBLDF has helped defend previously in various locations around the country.

  • A Fine Dessert : Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat — racism
  • A Long Way Gone — offensive language
  • Amazing You? Getting Smart About Your Private Parts — sex education
  • Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies: The Civil War — inaccurate
  • Black Angel — sexually explicit
  • Californication (TV series) — drugs, nudity, sexually explicit
  • Camp Midnight — horror, scary to minors
  • Daughter of the Forest — rape, sexually explicit
  • Deadly Little Lies: A Touch Novel — profanity
  • Froggy’s Halloween — anti-family, offensive language, religious viewpoint
  • Gay & Lesbian History for Kids —anti-family
  • Girl in Pieces: A Novel — suicide
  • Her Body and Other Parties — sexually explicit
  • How To Be Knotty: The Essential Guide to Modern Rope Bondage — nudity
  • Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship — LGBT
  • It’s Perfectly Normal — sexually explicit
  • Kearney High School Yearbook — LGBT
  • Lily and Dunkin — LGBT, gender roles
  • Little Monsters (movie) — scary to minors, offensive language
  • Perfect Chemistry — profanity, sexually explicit
  • Proof of Heaven — offensive language
  • Sex Is a Funny Word — sex education
  • Starlet (movie) — nudity, sexually explicit
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — offensive language, anti-family, drugs, insensitivity, sex education
  • The Book of Genesis — nudity, offensive language, violence, religious viewpoint
  • The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo — sexually explicit
  • The Holy Bible — illegal
  • Thug Kitchen (series) — offensive language
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail — abortion, drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit

In the case of The Hate U Give, an award-winning novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that was longlisted for the National Book Award, a parent of an eighth-grader at Reed Academy and state Representative Sonya Anderson object to language, drug use, and sexual content in the book.

According to Stephen Hall, chief communications officer for the school district, the book challenge went through the appropriate channels and “the book was pulled indefinitely, pending the outcome of the committee’s full review.” The committee will consist of a group of teachers, parents, and administrators, but the review could take months before a decision is made. Most free speech advocates, including CBLDF, oppose policies that call for the removal of materials pending review because such actions disrupt the classroom and students’ education.

Riley spoke with James LaRue, who heads the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, about his take on why the material was challenged.

“What’s happening now is the overprotective parent,” said LaRue. “You’ve heard of the helicopter parent? Well, these are the Velcro parents. They are not hovering anymore. They are attached.”

Free speech advocates take no issue with an individual parent who wants to moderate the content that their own child reads, but the actions of the parent in Springfield, Missouri — coupled with the interference of a local lawmaker — raise significant First Amendment concerns. A parent, much less a state representative, can’t and should not be allowed by administrators to make decisions for all children in the district.

Riley noted that in the Springfield district alone, at least five books were challenged, but luckily none have been removed so far. We can hope that pattern holds true for The Hate You Give.

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