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Missouri Reps Just Voted to Completely Defund the State’s Public Libraries

On Mar. 30, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a state operating budget with no funding for public libraries. It is still unclear whether state funding for public libraries will survive the Senate and the governor's office.

During the initial hearing of the House Budget Committee last week, Republican House Budget Chairman Cody Smith proposed cutting state aid for public libraries by $4.5 million, citing a lawsuit filed against Missouri by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU-MO).

The ACLU-MO filed the lawsuit for the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association (MLA) to overturn a state law passed in 2022 prohibiting sexually explicit materials in schools. The state's sexually explicit book law was first enacted in August, and librarians and other educators have been arrested and fined up to $2,000 for providing students with books deemed sexually explicit.

In Missouri, explicit sexual material is defined as “showing human masturbation, deviate sexual intercourse,” “sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse,” or showing human genitals. Libraries are being forced to remove books from shelves, according to the lawsuit.

“The house budget committee’s choice to retaliate against two private, volunteer-led organizations by punishing the patrons of Missouri’s public libraries is abhorrent,” Tom Bastian, deputy director for communications for ACLU-MO said in a statement to Motherboard.

Both Missouri library groups won't be charged for ACLU services, as is the case in all ACLU cases. Volunteers run both of these library organizations that serve both public libraries and school libraries - every state has an equivalent organization. There is a risk that 160 library districts will be cut off from state funding in June because a politician either lied or misrepresented the facts.

“State Aid helps libraries provide relevant collections, literacy based programming, and technology resources to their communities,” Otter Bowman, president of the MLA told Motherboard in a statement. “Our rural libraries rely the most heavily on this funding to serve their communities, and they will be crippled by this drastic budget cut.”

The latest fight over culture is affecting libraries across the country, where conservative groups oppose the removal of books they deem inappropriate. Other states, including Oklahoma and Tennessee, where obscenity bills became law last year, allow books with LGBTQ and diversity representation to be challenged more easily by adults.

Data released by the American Library Association last week showed that in 2022, the number of book challenges issued nearly doubled, with 32 percent including multiple titles. Over two dozen new obscenity bills have been introduced this year alone, according to EveryLibrary Institute.

“If the members of the committee are concerned about preserving taxpayer funds, they should stop enacting laws they know do not meet constitutional muster, not burden local governments in a misguided effort to silence organizations who object to the legislature’s overreach,” Bastian added.

The recent attacks on learning institutions and libraries are an attack on intellectualism and cultural awareness in America, in an effort to censor and erase information that provides platforms to marginalized communities.

Source: Vice News


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