Texas governor doubles down and calls for criminal probe of ‘pornography’ available in school libraries

Texas governor launches campaign against books with sexual imagery as GOP takes new focus on schools

John Bowden
Thursday 11 November 2021 21:45
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<p>Voting Bills Texas</p>

Voting Bills Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is doubling down on his embrace of conservatives’ escalating war against educational materials in public schools that some parents find inappropriate, with a new letter requesting a probe into the availability of supposedly pornographic books in school libraries.

The letter, sent on Wednesday, asks the state’s bureau of education to “investigate any criminal activity in public schools involving the availability of pornographic material that serves no educational purpose”. It builds upon a letter he sent to the agency earlier this week asking it to develop a set of standards “to ensure no child is exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content”.

“In Texas, it is illegal to provide pornography to anyone under the age of 18 according to Section 43.24 of the Texas Penal Code,” reads the letter from Mr Abbott’s office. “The fact that pornographic material that serves no educational purpose has been made available to students in Texas public schools is a clear violation of the law. That is why I am directing the Texas Education Agency to investigate any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography.”

While Mr Abbott’s latest letter includes no mentions of specific topics or books he wishes state education officials to look at, his previous letter singled out two memoirs by queer authors: Gender Queer: a Memoir by Maia Kobabe and In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.

Both books are explicit looks at LGBT+ relationships and contain references to sexual themes; Ms Kobabe’s book was removed from school shelves in one Texas jurisdiction in recent days after parents complained about parts of the illustrated memoir that depict sexual acts.

Though his letters do not mention the topics, Mr Abbott’s requests also come as other Republicans in the state are pushing for action against any content they see associated with so-called critical race theory teachings, which Texas Republicans have defined as anything related to issues of systemic racism.

Conservatives around the country have rallied around the issue of education and school curriculums as backlash against Black Lives Matter and other antiracist groups has endured in their communities.

The issue became a rallying point in the Virginia governor’s race, and Democrats found themselves unable to mount an effective response to the Republican Party’s embrace of the idea that parents should have a direct say in what content is or isn’t allowed in public school libraries and classrooms.

It isn’t clear who would face any criminal consequences stemming from Mr Abbott’s request for a criminal investigation of supposedly pornographic materials in state school libraries; the Texas Education Agency does not have an investigative arm, but could potentially ask the state’s attorney general to pursue criminal charges if it thought a crime had been deliberately committed.

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