Dec 6, 2021 - News

Iowa legislators target books and teachers for upcoming session

Illustration of a book wrapped in caution tape
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two Iowa Republican leaders said they want to pursue legislation that makes it a felony offense for school officials, including teachers, to provide "obscene materials" to students.

  • Details of what is considered “obscene” material is unknown right now.

Why it matters: Prior to November's school board elections, community members in Iowa and across the country were pushing schools to remove certain books — many of which tackle issues of race and sexuality — from their shelves.

  • But it appears state government intervention may be the next phase of banning literature.

Driving the news: Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman (R-Adel) posted on Facebook last month that he's pursuing legislation that penalizes teachers and librarians for providing what he views as "obscene material" in schools.

What he's saying: Chapman, who was accompanied by Republican state Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale, told committee members, "I don't know why the school thinks that they're above the law." 

  • "But I intend to do something about it," Chapman added.

Of note: Chapman and Zaun didn't respond to Axios' requests for comment.

Sen. Jake Chapman's FB post wanting to penalize teachers
Screenshot of Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman's Facebook feed

Between the lines: The U.S. Supreme Court has already issued a three-part test on what is considered obscene materials.

  • The vast majority of challenged books don't violate the court's guidelines.

The other side: "I think that the First Amendment would never allow us to go there," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association.

  • Even if the laws don't pass, the narrative can create a chilling effect for schools and libraries, leading them to self-censor books because they fear prosecution or stirring controversy.
  • Some of the challenged books deal with race, sex and LGBTQ issues. While they may not be for all families, these are all relevant topics in some high schoolers lives and removing them can ostracize those students, Caldwell-Stone said.
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