Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor announced Thursday he was halting an investigation into whether dozens of books on school library shelves violate the state’s obscenity law.
The Frontier first reported that O’Connor’s office had opened an investigation into whether 51 books in Oklahoma school libraries, including classics like Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ran afoul of the state’s obscenity law after complaints from parents and other groups about the books.
The investigation came amid a new conservative push to remove some books from school libraries in Oklahoma and across the country, as well as several bills in the Legislature this session dealing with school libraries.
O’Connor said in a statement Thursday that his office would no longer investigate the matter. He also mentioned a bill in the Oklahoma Legislature to expand the definition of “obscene materials” to include books, magazines, articles and other written materials.
“I received complaints from several parents about books in public school libraries which the parents found obscene. I will always listen to the complaints of Oklahomans. I recommended that they present their objections to the school boards. I also recommended that they talk with the legislature regarding how Oklahoma law defines ‘obscenity,’” O’Connor said in the statement. “Our office is not conducting an investigation in this matter at this time. I understand that there is proposed legislation that has been introduced in this new session to address these parents’ concerns.”
During a meeting late last week of the group Reclaiming Oklahoma Parent Empowerment, Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, said she helped bring the books to O’Connor’s attention, and that he had told her that the state’s obscenity law had never before been used to challenge written materials.
Conley has introduced House Bill 4013 to expand the definition of obscene materials, as well as House Bill 4012, which would set up district-level standards boards to examine whether school materials are obscene. The bill would also implement a motion-picture-style rating system for books and allow local board decisions on materials to be appealed to the State Board of Education.
House Bill 4013 passed the House Judiciary Committee last week by a vote of 8-1 and is now awaiting a vote on the House floor. An amended version of the bill includes a provision to outlaw “obscene materials harmful to minors,” including written materials, that “predominantly appeals to the prurient, shameful or morbid interest of minors,” “is patently offensive to the prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors,” and “is utterly without redeeming social importance for minors.”
House Bill 4012 has yet to be heard by the House Common Education Committee.
O’Connor said for the time being, parents with concerns about school library and curriculum materials should contact their respective school boards.
“I respect the role and responsibility of parents in the education and social development of their children and urge the school boards to consider the complaints of these parents and work with them in regard to the materials available in the school libraries,” O’Connor said.
Many of the books on the list that under review by O’Connor’s office can be found on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. Though complaints from parents about the books came from around the state, Conley said she sent many of the titles to O’Connor’s office from a list Reclaiming Oklahoma Parent Empowerment gave her.
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