OK Senate Bill 397: Unconstitutional and Dangerous

OK Senate Bill 397: Unconstitutional and Dangerous

By Victoria White

A&E Editor

A book ban by any other name still reeks of governmental control. On March 7, The Oklahoma Senate passed OK SB 397. This bill, authored by Senator Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) and Representative Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle), aims to force schools and public libraries to separate books into different age groups and apply strict guidelines to students and patrons. Those age groups are: “elementary” (pre-k through fifth grade), “junior high” (sixth through eighth grade), “under 16” and “juniors and seniors.”

Any books designated as “juniors and seniors” must be kept in an area accessible only by librarians and other staff. All students or patrons will be required to present a written parental consent form to check out these books.

The bill does not stop at restricting minors’s access to materials.

“Beginning July 1, 2024, no print or nonprint material or media in a school district library, charter school library, or public library shall include content that the average person age eighteen (18) or older applying contemporary community standards would find has a predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex,” the bill said.

What does that mean, you may ask?

No sex in literature! Even in public libraries patronized by adults.

Well, in accordance with your contemporary community, of course. I hope you have brushed up on your “average” community members and their standards, because there will be a quiz afterwards.

This is a ludicrous provision in an already laughable bill. Actually, it’s hard to laugh about something so dangerous.

But according to Hamilton, this is not an outright ban.

“This bill is not an attempt to ban books,” Warren said. “It’s certain things you can’t get at school.”

Warren goes on to say it is merely a method for encouraging a community to be in control of their own literature.

“School boards, you ain’t exactly been hitting it out of the park lately,” Hamilton said.

“Maybe you could use a little help from some community involvement, some community empowerment.”

This all lies on the assumption that lawmakers and other members of the community are better equipped to raise someone’s child than their own parent or guardian. This is saying one person’s needs should represent the entire community.

The measure is also harmful to growth. How will this affect children’s reading levels? Reading ahead of grade level is not uncommon for students.

Should improving comprehension skills be discouraged? Should students be forced to stay in step with their peers if they have the capability and interest in advancing?

The reality is the brunt of the work will be put on librarians, not community members. Librarians who are already working in environments with increasingly greater threats of violence. Efforts to establish and maintain libraries as safe and accepting environments have resulted in acts of discrimination all around the country.

From Hawaii to New York City, libraries have been fielding threats from members of their community and others. These typically occur when libraries provide safe spaces for marginalized members of the community (such as LGBTQ+ individuals or drag queens) to openly celebrate or lead events.

In March, the American Library Association made a formal disownment of said individuals threatening violence.

“Libraries are committed to upholding and defending the core values of inclusion and free and equal access to ideas and information, which are essential to an informed democratic society,” the release stated. “The freedom to read is a constitutionally protected right, and reading choices must be left to the reader, and in case of children, their parents.”

The purpose of a library is to house knowledge. Why should government officials be able to take that knowledge away?

Hamilton’s goal for this measure is to prevent children from being exposed to pornographic material.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that would argue that there are some things that younger children are exposed to that maybe they shouldn’t be,” Hamilton said, “and so we can organize those things into the appropriate time for them.”

In a time of Conservative contempt for LGBTQ+ individuals in the form of congressional measures like the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act (otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), this statement reads more like, “I don’t want children to be exposed to themes with which I don’t agree.”

When the history books are written about society in the 21st century, what will they say about the book bans?

Will we even be able to read them?

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