Earlier this month, Missouri State Representative Ben Baker (R), the 160th District Representative from Neosho, filed a Parental Oversight of Libraries bill. The bill has attracted widespread attention, much of which is far from favorable. At the Neosho Daily News, we took time to interview Baker for some insight into filing the bill and to provide him with the opportunity to present his side - since we support freedom of speech. Baker makes his home in Neosho and is a former mayor.
NDN: Why did you decide to introduce this bill?
BAKER: I decided to introduce the bill after reading about what is taking place in some of the libraries in our state and other states as well. We have a situation where events and materials are being promoted by our libraries that are inappropriate for minors and disregarding dissent. Our local library is great and is exactly what a library should be with great people at the helm that care about protecting children. However, there is an agenda by certain groups to introduce children to inappropriate adult themes using the vehicle of the tax funded library to do so and I think we need to address it. My intention is to protect our children from objectionable materials and events that are being allowed in some libraries.
NDN: Was there any particular materials that prompted it?
BAKER:Events like the “Drag Queen Story Hour” in Houston, Tx. Last March. Where a pedophile convicted of assaulting an eight-year-old boy was allowed to perform before the children in the library. There are many other stories that will turn your stomach that is happening across the country and some in our own state. This bill is both reactionary and preventative.
NDN: Does the extreme reactions to the bill surprise you?
BAKER: Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. Although it’s a fresh reminder of the hypocritical outrage by the left. They claim the bill is government control and in reality, it is local control. They claim it is a breach of the first amendment, yet they hate it when you voice your opinion that disagrees with them even to the point of death threats to me and my family. I had to turn in the threats to Capitol police to investigate on Friday. They claim I want to ban books and censor literature. There is no provision for that in the bill. All content would still be available for a parent or guardian to provide to their children. They claim tolerance and love yet spew hate and vitriol and violence instead of discussing differences of opinions. The media literally writes stories that are opposite of what I am trying to accomplish. They claim I want to throw librarians in jail for allowing our children to access age inappropriate materials. The truth is there is a penalty of the law for not following the wishes of the community, but it is much less than the current law regarding disseminating objectionable materials to a minor. Currently it’s a felony but the penalty under the bill is a misdemeanor. They claim the experts and professionals know better than our parents as to what is appropriate for our children to have access to, and I disagree. They claim that I want to force my religion and morals upon those that frequent the library and in reality, I want everyone to have access to all views of faith and opposing philosophical views. Once again, I have had hundreds if not thousands of messages, emails, calls and almost all of them have been from outside my district and most from outside the state. I even had a death threat from outside the country! This particular threat voiced that he would be hunting me and would shoot me in the face. On the other hand, most of the response I have received from my constituents have been support and thanks for tackling this issue. Most of the media and negative response is from those who are too lazy to read the actual bill but instead form their opinions based on headlines that are not objective.
NDN: Did the "Drag Queen story hours" that have taken place in some Missouri librarians factor into your decision to introduce this bill?
NDN:Do you feel that - despite all the media attention - that most parents, especially those in your district support and approve of the bill?
BAKER: Those that I have given me the opportunity to explain what the bill actually does usually will then agree that it is a good bill. Of course there is always room for discussion of tweaking the language to have a better bill. I will be doing a Facebook poll soon to see what the numbers are in support of the idea but if I were to guess I would say that overwhelmingly the people in my district would support the idea of what I am trying to accomplish.