belovedA coalition of free speech groups sent a strong message to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: Veto HB516, a bill that poses a distinct threat to public education and the freedom to read.

The legislation has been called the "Beloved Bill," because it was inspired by one parent's failed attempt to have the Toni Morrison novel removed from her son's AP English class. The bill would require the state's public schools to notify parents of any “sexually explicit content” in instructional materials and to provide “nonexplicit” alternatives by request.

The March 8 letter–signed by the American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Council of Teachers of English, the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Children's and Young Adult Book Committee of PEN American Center– argues that HB516 "would prejudice educationally valuable content, undermine the quality of public education in Virginia, and contravene important First Amendment principles."

How the state would determine which content might be considered "sexually explicit" is unclear, but it is reasonable to assume that the label could apply to scores of classic works of literature. The bill also undermines core educational principles that guide teacher selection of literature. Allowing parents to "opt out" will inevitably affect all students, as many instructors might reasonably choose to avoid teaching material that would fall under the "sexually explicit" standard. 

And the bill threatens established First Amendment principles: "If the proposed legislation results in the removal of material solely to satisfy those who object to its content, it could inadvertently expose school districts to liability for violating the First Amendment rights of other students."

See the full letter below, or click here for full-screen view