Missouri schools have banned at least 300 books since August because of a new law criminalizing explicit sexual material. That’s according to PEN America, a national organization which works to defend free expression.

The Missouri Legislature passed and Gov. Mike Parson signed into law Senate Bill 775. The legislation makes providing “explicit sexual material” to students a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Jonathan Friedman, with PEN America, said libraries have “sensible systems” for deciding what types of materials to put on shelves.

“There is this kind of movement underway that suggests that more harm can be done from reading books than will be done by banning them,” he said. “I think what people need to understand is that once we start restricting books, removing books, banning books, whatever you want to call it, it’s always a slippery slope. If you are removing books just because one person objects to them in a school library or a public library, well pretty soon you’re not going to have much of a library left. There’s a reason why libraries have codes and ethics and principle systems for deciding what kinds of materials to curate and include there and a lot of the time it’s based on matters of circulation – what people are interested in reading.”

Friedman said books pulled in Missouri include classics like Shakespeare and Mark Twain, The Children’s Bible, a graphic novel of The Gettysburg Address, comic books, ones about the Holocaust and the LGBT community.

“Even though you might be able to get X or Y book on Amazon or buy it at a bookstore, or if it’s out of a school library, get at a public library, it’s still an infringement on people’s rights to access these books where they are available. And for a lot of people, they don’t have the disposable funds and it is these public institutions that serve not just students but their families,” said Friedman.

Friedman said schools should give an honest education about history.

“Art Spiegelman, the author of the graphic novel ‘Maus’, which deals with the Holocaust and we found was removed in at least two school districts in Missouri over the past few months, said that, ‘People just seem to want a kinder, gentler Holocaust than the one that is depicted in books.’ But unfortunately, that’s not the one that existed,” said Friedman.

He said one unique piece about Missouri’s law is that it includes private K-12 schools – not just public schools.

“One of the alarming trends on the way to authoritarianism is giving the government the power to control the circulation of ideas, what’s acceptable to write, to think, to share, to read, and that is what is so concerning about what’s happening in our public institutions,” he said.

State Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, sponsored the provision in the bill.

“In schools all across the country, we’ve seen this disgusting and inappropriate content making its way into our classrooms and libraries. Parents are waking up to what is happening to their kids and they are making their voices heard. The last place our children should be seeing pornography is in our schools. It’s time for educators to work with parents to protect our children, not exposing them to content they aren’t ready for and that has no educational value. Parents must be able to trust their children are being taught in a safe and healthy environment and they have every right to shield their children from sexually explicit content in school. The language I amended onto SB 775 is about shifting the focus back towards students, parents, and transparency and it is about restoring trust with schools that has been seriously strained by the events of the past few years,” he said.

To view Senate Bill 775, click here. To view the list compiled by PEN America, click here.