Tennessee Lawmaker Wants To Burn Banned Books

A Tennessee lawmaker showed approval of book burning during a legislative session regarding public school libraries.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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book burning

The practice of book burning has a long history throughout the world, stretching back thousands of years. It is often done so in a mass public effort to show opposition to the material. Historically, it has been brought on by things like cultural, religious, or political defiance. For some groups, the practice is symbolic of oppression and censorship, making it a controversial practice. Because of this, a Tennessee lawmaker is beleaguered by some for openly supporting the burning of books he objects to in school libraries, while others are praising his remarks.

The controversial statement happened this past Wednesday, April 27th during a legislative session in the Republican-run government trifecta of Tennessee. The bill that was being debated and voted on scrutinized further transparency on public school library material. During heated discussions, Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons showed opposition to the bill. Asking one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, what he intended to be done with books that the bill would appropriate to ban –alluding to book burning – Sexton replied, “I don’t have a clue, but I would burn them.”

book burning

According to The Associated Press, the now-advanced legislation would give Tennessee’s textbook commission veto power over schools to remove books from school libraries. The commissary group is made up of various members appointed by Tennessee’s top appointed government officials. Many of the books being banned touch on aspects of racism and LGBTQ issues. And while the group may or may not condone book burning, at least one of its supporters seems to. 

Sexton has fought vehemently throughout this school year to place more transparency on public school libraries and librarians. During a House debate in early March, Sexton called out librarians, as Republicans alleged that many educators and librarians are attempting to “groom” children with sexually explicit material inside school libraries. Speaking to the group of librarians in attendance, Sexton said, “I don’t appreciate what’s going in our libraries, what’s being put in front of our children and shame on you for putting it there.” During Wednesday’s debate, Sexton seemed to languish over his choice of words suggesting book burning. Later in the session, he added in a statement noting he is not a member of the textbook commission and didn’t believe any book-burning would likely take place.

book burning

Challenged books and book burning is nothing new to society, but many are alarmed at the increased rate at which it is being supported this year. The American Library Association (ALA) recently reported that they are seeing more challenged books this year than ever before. The topic has garnered such attraction in Tennessee that public book burnings were reported earlier this year by NBC. In February, a conservative pastor, Greg Locke, held a book burning event encouraging parishioners to burn “evil garbage” such as young adult fantasy books, and other “demonic” publications. Many of the books being burned were those of popular young-adult series, like Harry Potter and Twilight.

Regardless of whether or not book burning will become a norm in the state (which it likely won’t), the legislation was voted through the house on a 66-26 vote. Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee has shown staunch support for such legislation, as he even introduced similar legislation ensuring age-appropriate books in schools earlier this year. When, and if, it heads to his desk, it will surely be signed into law.