Two members of Moms for Liberty are reporting school librarians to law enforcement for allowing minors to check out books written and widely recommended for minors. “I've got some evidence a crime was committed," Moms for Liberty member Jennifer Tapley told the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. "Pornography given to a minor in a school. And I would like to make a report with somebody and turn over the evidence.”
Pornography given to a minor in a school is a strong claim. Let’s check it out.
Popular Information’s Judd Legum obtained audio of Tapley’s call to the sheriff’s office and a doozy of a body camera video as deputies tried to learn more about her complaint.
So what is this pornographic book that a librarian allowed to be checked out “by a 17-year-old, which is important because she is a minor”? Jennifer L. Armentrout’s ”Storm and Fury.” It’s a young adult fantasy novel in which a heroine with supernatural gifts and the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa fights demons alongside “Wardens,” or beings who alternate between appearing as human and appearing as gargoyles.
A book with that basic description could certainly have its steamy moments. That’s not what this book is, though. Armentrout told Legum she wrote the book “to educate people on a little-known disease in a fun, suspenseful, and adventurous way” and not to "incite sexual excitement."
To investigate which characterization—Armentrout’s or Tapley’s—was more accurate, Daily Kos obtained a Kindle copy of “Storm and Fury.” A search of terms likely to be included in a sex scene turned up some kissing, including the heroine beating the crap out of someone when he tries to move beyond the kissing she has consented to, and one non-penetrative sex scene at the following level of explicitness:
“I gasped as the softest part of me pressed down on the hardest part of him. He still had his pajama bottoms on and I was still in my undies, but I could feel every inch of him.”
“The coil tightened deep inside me, and our movements became almost frantic. His growl of approval seared my skin, igniting the fire, and I came in a blinding rush, muscles tightening and loosening all at once.”
Thank you, Moms for Liberty, for making me search a young adult fantasy novel for sexual terms to try to figure out what you described as pornography. You guys are disgusting. Also, a book composed entirely of that kind of writing would still not be pornography.
So we have a book with a strong heroine who emphasizes the importance of consent and at no point engages in penetrative sex, let alone anything explicitly described. According to Tapley, “The governor says this is child pornography. It's a serious crime. It's just as serious as if I handed a Playboy to [my child] right now, right here, in front of you. It's just as serious, according to the law.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a lot of opinions on a lot of things, but if he has expressed an opinion specifically about “Storm and Fury,” it has not been widely reported. In any case, it would be irrelevant because governors do not get to unilaterally decide what is and is not pornography. Additionally, “child pornography” is not a term used to describe the provision of pornography to a child. Child pornography is sexual depictions of children, and it is generally considered to be a much worse crime than allowing a child to view (or read) pornography. Which, again, “Storm and Fury” is not.
Tapley at one point cited Florida statute 847.012, which prohibits the sale or distribution of “harmful materials” to minors, with that including “Any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter however reproduced” that meets the definition of obscenity in 847.001:
(7) “Harmful to minors” means any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever kind or form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it:
(a) Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;
(b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and
(c) Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
It would be difficult to seriously argue that a book containing one (1) inexplicit sex scene predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest even if you feel that that single scene is in itself appealing to a prurient interest rather than furthering character development and/or the overall plot of the novel. Additionally, there is that one rather important clause: “Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” Legum writes:
In the 2020-21 academic year, the Florida Association of Media in Education (FAME), a professional association of Florida librarians, recommended Storm and Fury on its "Teen Reads" list. FAME says books on the list "engage" teens and "provide a spur to critical thinking." Barnes and Noble recommends the book for readers 14 to 18. It was also recommended for students by the School Library Journal.
Calling law enforcement over school librarians allowing students to check out books in the school library is an extreme move—and one that Tapley’s partner in making this complaint, Tom Gurski, wasn’t making for the first time. In the video, he recounted making a similar criminal complaint over a school library book in another jurisdiction. This is where we are in the year 2023: People are roaming from one law enforcement department to another trying to get school librarians criminally investigated over language like “He still had his pajama bottoms on and I was still in my undies, but I could feel every inch of him.”
The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office apparently did not follow through on investigating what Gurski informed them was a “3rd-degree felony,” but Gurski’s complaint to the Milton Police Department about another book apparently did produce an investigation. Book-banning efforts aren’t just targeting books. They’re targeting the purveyors of books: school librarians.
Many cities and towns across the country have elections for school and library boards on Tuesday. Find out which candidates in your area will try to ban books and which ones will fight book bans with everything they have. Then get out and vote.