Updated 2/28/2022: The Wentzville R-IV School District has decided to keep The Bluest Eye in classrooms and libraries after facing widespread criticism and a lawsuit from the ACLU of Missouri for its previous decision to remove the book for “obscenity.”
Originally Posted 2/25/2022: NCAC wrote to the Wentzville R-IV School District in Missouri to assure that district that The Bluest Eye does not fall afoul of Missouri obscenity law after the school board decided to remove Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s book from district libraries and curriculum.
At least one Board member expressed the belief that The Bluest Eye is obscene under Missouri law, and that the district might expose itself to liability if it did not remove the book. Misunderstanding about Missouri law might have led some Board members to vote to remove the book, even after the District’s review committee voted to retain the book.
In the simplest terms: The Bluest Eye cannot be labeled either obscene or “pornographic to minors” unless it lacks serious literary value for adults or minors, respectively. It is impossible to argue that that is the case.
Section 573 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri indeed makes it illegal to promote obscene material or to furnish to minors material which is “pornographic for minors.” However, both “obscene” materials and materials “pornographic to minors” are defined very narrowly.
Materials are not obscene unless “taken as a whole: (a) Applying contemporary community standards, its predominant appeal is to prurient interest in sex; and (b) The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the material depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (c) A reasonable person would find the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value[.]” The definition of “pornographic to minors” is similar.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence that The Bluest Eye does not lack serious literary merit is the fact that the District’s book review committee voted to retain the book. Surely, the committee would not have recommended retaining a book that lacks serious literary merit; nor would librarians and educators in the district have acquired such a book in the first place. Moreover, the one committee member who voted to remove the book did not take issue with its literary merit, but rather stated simply: “Graphic Content- low reader usage, low demand.”
In addition, The Bluest Eye is listed as an exemplar text by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Finally, the fact that The Bluest Eye deals with child sexual abuse renders it of value to students; child sexual abuse is an issue faced by thousands of children in the state of Missouri, as evidenced by the fact that the Missouri Department of Social Services calls attention to this very issue every year with an annual report on incidents in the state.
NCAC urges the Board to reconsider its decision regarding The Bluest Eye.