Pressing there’s a distinction between educational material and pornography, U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman grilled a witness during a congressional committee hearing about whether it’s “censorship” if first-grade teachers are prevented from showing their students Penthouse magazine.
The witness, Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director for Washington and Free Expression Programs at PEN America, first asked for Hageman to repeat the question, then said she didn’t know of any instances of first grade students being shown Penthouse magazine.
Hageman caught her off in their exchange during last week’s hearing for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Limited Government and the Constitution.
“That isn’t my question,” interjected Hageman, an at-large member of the committee. “My question is, do you believe it is censorship to prohibit teachers from exposing first graders to Penthouse magazine?”
Johnson attempted to answer again before Hageman cut her off once more, accusing Johnson of dodging the question.
“You are not going to answer the question, is that right?” Hageman asked.
Johnson continued what she was saying to the previous answer before she was interrupted.
“I believe it is important that we have parents, teachers and educators involved and understanding what … is being presented to a student,” Johnson said.
Hageman then rephrased her question, finally getting a direct response from Johnson.
“Of course not,” Johnson said.
“It’s not censorship to keep first grade students from looking at Penthouse,” Hageman clarified on Twitter after the hearing “It’s common sense.”
Hageman told Fox News on Sunday the point she was trying to make with Johnson is there are limits on what is appropriate for children to be exposed to.
“That’s why when she dodged (the question) three separate times,” Hageman said, adding that, “I wasn’t going to let her get away with it, because it’s really the crux of the debate.”
Free Speech Push
Johnson told Fox News that Hageman’s line of questioning was off-base and no one would support showing Penthouse to first graders.
“Instead, what we are seeing is bans on picture books about penguins, bans on books with titles like ‘Everywhere Babies’ and ‘The Baby Tree,’ and bans on picture books about the civil rights movement,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson was testifying on an agenda topic titled “Free Speech: The Biden Administration’s Chilling of Parents’ Fundamental Rights.” She argued that legislation enacted in certain states limits freedom of expression.
“In the past two years, PEN America has documented an explosion of restrictions affecting free speech in education,” she said.
Many of the books deemed sexually explicit involve the teaching of LGBTQ issues.
Johnson said bans haven’t been limited to books, but also have included cancelation of school plays and field trips.
In her testimony, Johnson said that although she recognizes the role of parents in guiding their children’s education, she believes there are efforts underway to push the viewpoints of a minority onto the whole by getting the government to enact censorship on their behalf.
People around Wyoming and the country have become increasingly polarized over the topic of allegedly sexually graphic books and materials in school libraries.
Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice also testified at the hearing and criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for targeting parents who have protested controversial curricula and books.
In February, Oklahoma made a rule that will allow the state to reduce a school’s certification if it makes such materials available in school libraries.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation into law in 2022 to address parental complaints about explicit materials. That state also pulled multiple books from libraries on the grounds of having explicit content.
During the 2023 Wyoming legislative session, a bill was proposed that would have prohibited the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to students in grades three and younger. The bill died when the speaker of the House refused to pull it out of his drawer.