Wentzville, Missouri School District Bans Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Calls Book ‘Obscene’

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The NCAC has written to the Wentzville R-IV School District in Missouri to assure that district that The bluest eye does not violate Missouri’s obscenity law after the school board decided to remove Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s book from libraries and the district’s curriculum.

At least one Council member expressed the view that The bluest eye is obscene under Missouri law, and that the district could face liability if it did not remove the book. A misunderstanding of Missouri law could have led some council members to vote to withdraw the book, even after the district review board voted to keep the book.

In the simplest terms: The bluest eye cannot be called obscene or “pornographic for minors” unless it lacks serious literary value for adults or minors, respectively. It is impossible to claim that this is the case.

Section 573 of the Missouri Revised Statutes prohibits promoting obscene material or providing “juvenile porn” material to minors. However, both “obscene” and “pornographic for minors” materials are defined very narrowly.

Material is not obscene unless “taken as a whole: (a) Applying contemporary community standards, its predominant appeal is lustful interest in sex; and (b) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the material depicts or depicts sexual behavior in a patently offensive manner; and (c) A reasonable person would find the material to lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.[.]The definition of “pornographic to minors” is similar.

Perhaps the most obvious proof that The bluest eye not lacking in serious literary merit is the fact that the district book review board voted to keep the book. Certainly, the committee would not have recommended keeping a book that lacks serious literary merit; neither would the district librarians and educators have acquired such a book in the first place. Additionally, the one committee member who voted to withdraw the book did not dispute its literary merit, but simply said, “Graphic content – low readership, low demand.”

Besides, The bluest eye is listed as an exemplary text by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Finally, the fact that The bluest eye deals with child sexual abuse makes it valuable for students; child sexual abuse is a problem faced by thousands of children in the state of Missouri, as evidenced by the fact that the Missouri Department of Social Services draws attention to this problem each year with an annual report about incidents in the state.

The NCAC urges the Board to reconsider its decision regarding The bluest eye.

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