New legislation was introduced today in Oklahoma that targets books in schools and will strengthen censors in the state. Senate Bill 1142, written by State Senator Rob Standridge, gives a single parent the authority to remove books from schools and allow them to seek monetary damages.
The bill will specifically target sex and issues of gender identity. From the bill,
No public school district, public charter school, or public school library shall maintain in its inventory or promote books that make as their primary subject the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, or gender identity or books that are of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know of or approve of prior to their child being exposed to it.
Graphic novels that explore gender identity, like Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, would be targeted with this bill. The language in SB1142 also exposes the false conflation of sex with gender identity, an issue we have seen for years with identity censorship.
Morgan Allen, the center director for Oklahomans for Equality, responded to the bill,
These books are there to give our kids the language that they need to express how they are already feeling, and that’s it. These books are not there for anything else other than to affirm and show the kids their love for who they are, and that there are other people out there like them, that they are not alone. And if we take those books away from their libraries, then we’re saying that their schools and the people who are in those schools don’t see them for who they are, and that they are alone in those schools. And they’re not alone.
In addition to the elements of identity censorship present in the bill, it includes an easier path to censorship and penalties leveled at school districts and their employees. The authority of the school board to vet and review books for their district would be thrown out the window. A single parent would be positioned to decide what is appropriate for everyone. Most policies require the challenger to have read the book; with this new bill, all they have to do is write a request for removal. One letter campaign could destroy the school libraries in the state of Oklahoma.
Schools would be granted thirty days to comply with the removal request. If the school employee tasked with removing the book does not comply within the thirty days, they will be dismissed and be unable to work at a publicly funded school for two years. Additionally, the complaining parent is entitled to sue for damages at a minimum of $10,000 per day if the school does not comply after the thirty-day period.
Loss of job security and funding would create a chilling effect for educators, librarians, and administration. Removal of funding is a tactic deployed more often recently, as we saw last month in Texas.
Not the first bill of its kind, several other states saw similar proposals last year. They ultimately failed for being viewed as unconstitutional. This bill will likely also fail for the same reasons. However, the continued introduction of legislation like this in 2022 is a troubling sign.