NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — Country artist John Rich spoke before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in the Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday, offering his opinion on a bill that seeks to prohibit schools from allowing materials deemed "obscene" to be offered at school libraries.
HB1944/SB1944 is sponsored by Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka-D64) and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-D28). The bill seeks to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-17-902(e) which prohibits obscene materials distributed to minors. According to the code, obscenity is defined as materials which can be harmful to minors which includes descriptions or representations of nudity, sexual conduct, excess violence, sadomasochistic abuse, and sexual excitement.
"Harmful to minors" is also defined under the code as something which "Would be found by the average person applying contemporary community standards to appeal predominantly to the prurient, shameful or morbid interests of minors; Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors; and Taken as whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific values for minors. The exception to materials deemed obscene is if the material is "possessed by a person having scientific, educational, governmental, or other similar justification."
ALSO READ: Tennessee pastor holds burning of books, other materials deemed 'demonic'
The bill proposed will amend the code to remove the exception for schools, stating "The exception in this subsection (e) does not apply to the possession of obscene material by a local education agency; a public school, including a public charter school; or an employee or private contractor of a local education agency or public school if the obscene material is harmful to minors and possessed on public school premises."
Speaking before the committee on Wednesday, Rich stated he was there to speak as a dad, saying schools which distribute books containing graphic materials are similar to "predators" who take part in "grooming" children. Rich cited federal law which targets the sexual grooming of minors among other legal case opinions in the courts. "What's the difference between a teacher, educator, or librarian putting one of these books...on the desk of a student or a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out and saying come on around kids let me read you this book and show you these pictures. What's the difference in those two scenarios? There is a difference by the way. They can run away from the guy in the white van."
Rich added he believed there was "bonified grooming taking place in Tennessee schools." The committee also heard from opinions which differed from his, one speaker saying while she understood fears, "there are also books that other people are gonna find obscene...you're gonna open up the ability for them to remove those books from your libraries and your classrooms with this bill." The bill was deferred until March 2, when it will again go before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
In a tweet following his comments, Rich stated "Testifying at the Tennessee House of Reps legislative committee today was quite a deal. Some supported, some dissented, but Going toe to toe with adversaries is necessary in these times. We must bring the fight to them. We The People are the firewall between tyranny and freedom."
Tennessee Democrats also addressed Rich's comments following the committee meeting, calling his comparison "laughable" and "offensive." See the full video and their response in the video player above.
Get reports like this and all the news of the day in Middle Tennessee delivered to your inbox each morning with the FOX 17 News Daily Newsletter.