Apr 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP Tennessee lawmaker suggests burning inappropriate books

Photo of the Tennessee state capitol with four police guards standing in the front
Police are seen surrounding the Tennessee State Capitol building on June 4, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin via Getty Images

A Republican Tennessee lawmaker faced backlash Wednesday after saying on the state House floor that he would burn books that are deemed inappropriate for school libraries, the Tennessean reports.

Why it matters: Book burning is a common feature in authoritarian regimes and was a notable practice in Nazi Germany, where over 25,000 books were set aflame after they were designated "un-German," according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Driving the news: During debate on a bill that would require public school libraries to submit a list of book titles to a state commission for approval, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D) asked state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R) what he would do with books that were deemed inappropriate for schools.

  • "You going to put them in the street? Light them on fire? Where are they going?" Clemmons said.
  • "I don’t have a clue, but I would burn them," Sexton replied. He argued that there is currently no standard for how books are included in school libraries and that the bill would allow parents to flag books "that they don't like," per a local Fox News affiliate.
  • State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D) later said on the floor that "history hasn't looked fondly on those who banned books or those who burn books. I'm not sure that's who we want to be included with," the Fox News affiliate reports.

For the record: Sexton added after his comment that he wouldn't be on the commission, so there would be no book burning, per the Tennessean.

  • "We're not banning books, we're just removing them from the library," Sexton said.

Worth noting: Because the state Senate version of the bill does not require schools to submit book lists for approval, the legislation remains held up in the state Legislature, The Tennessee Lookout notes.

The big picture: Sexton's comments come as several GOP-led state legislatures move to ban certain books, generally about LGBTQ issues and people of color, from schools.

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