Kansas GOP Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook Wants To Criminalize “Harmful” Books

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee

A Republican senator in Kansas, Mary Pilcher-Cook, has introduced a bill to the state house to amend the current public morals standard. Senate Bill 56 would, according to The Courthouse News Service, “… amend Kansas’ public morals statute by deleting an exemption that protects K-12 public, private and parochial schoolteachers from being prosecuted for presenting material deemed harmful to minors.” In other words, any book could result in the arrest, prosecution, and possibly jailing of teachers and librarians, if “deemed harmful to minors.”

As I was reading two separate articles on SB 56, our 17-year old son came home from school. He takes AP English, and has been assigned books that Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook would find harmful, most recently reading 1984 by George Orwell. He’s also read The Shining, Huckleberry Finn, all the Harry Potter books, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and this coming summer, will hopefully devour Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. But Senator Pilcher-Cook’s bill doesn’t stop at criminalizing books; she also wants to punish sex-ed teachers. I asked our son what he thought of the Kansas bill. He shook his head, and said:

Books don’t influence kids to go “be gay,” or to believe in another god, or anything like that. And health education is very important; it supplies knowledge you need to know, and helps kids know how to prevent pregnancy if they decide to have sex. 

People in power have tried to ban books for hundreds of years, under the guise of “protection.” Protection from what, exactly? Ideas that differ from your own? Lewd content? Who decides what is lewd, or dangerous? Some Republican politician, who probably read Flowers in the Attic eons ago, and believes young-adult fiction has nothing else to offer? JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, has seen her books banned by right-wing Christians because they deal with magic. Some of the most wonderful books every written have been banned, and always for the same reason: Someone without a clue decides a book is “bad.” Here are just some of the books that made the American Library Associations of Banned or Challenged books from over a six-year period of time (2008-2013), and the reason for the ban or challenge.


*Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey. Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

*The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group


*The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

*Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence


*Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

*To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Reasons: offensive language; racism


*Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint

*Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence


*The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

*The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group (this is one of our son’s favorite books)


*Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz. Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

*And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

The list goes on. In 2007, The Golden Compass made the list; the reason given was “religious viewpoint.” Religious viewpoint. It is most likely that Senator Pilcher-Cook is a fundamentalist Christian, as are many other conservative Republicans. This means any book that does not conform to their viewpoint could be “deemed harmful.” Does that strike anyone else as frightening? And as for criminalizing the teaching of sex-ed, this is truly confusing. The right-wing is staunchly pro-fetus, so one would think conservatives might support education that gives young adults – who are most likely going to have sex anyway-the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from STDs, and unwanted pregnancy. National data shows teaching sex-ed  is more effective at reducing teen pregnancy than abstinence-only programs.

Banning books, criminalizing health and human sexuality classes, and using some sort of fundamentalist Christian barometer to determine what is and is not harmful to a student is incredibly dangerous. It also sounds a lot like what ISIL is doing in Syria:

In swaths of Syria now controlled by ISIS/ISIL , children can no longer study math or social studies. Sports are out of the question. And students will be banned from learning about elections and democracy.

Instead, they’ll be subjected to the teachings of the radical Islamist group. And any teacher who dares to break the rules “will be punished.”

ISIL has also banned the teaching of evolution, and:

…teachers must say that the laws of physics and chemistry “are due to Allah’s rules and laws.” (source)

A group of religious extremists, demanding children be taught nothing of importance, never use their imaginations, and never learn anything other than strict, religious dogma.

For years, many Americans have noticed similarities between fundamentalist Christians and Islamic extremists, especially when it comes to education and sex. Sex is bad, unless you’re married to a person of the opposite sex. Education must be bible-based, creationism should be taught in school, and abstinence-only education is the only option. We have Republicans who are probably running for president who do not believe in evolution, do not support the separation of church and state, and would very much like to use our tax dollars to teach kids attending public schools that dinosaurs and people lived together.

Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook is tiptoeing down a sinister path. Kansas cannot sign this bill into law. I echo Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, when she said the bill, if voted into law, would have a “chilling effect on teachers and librarians who don’t want to be prosecuted.” Imagine a world where recommending Catcher in the Rye, or Tom Sawyer, or a Judy Blume book, could result in imprisonment.

Chilling indeed.

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Erin Nanasi

Erin Nanasi is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary. She hates writing about herself in the third person. Erin enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family. And wombats. Come visit Erin on on Facebook. She also can be found on Twitter at @WriterENanasi.


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