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GOP lawmaker challenges witness if shielding pornographic magazine from first graders is 'censorship'

A Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, Harriet Hageman, grilled a witness over the targeting of certain controversial books in public school libraries.

Wyoming Rep. Harriet Hageman, R., grilled a witness on Thursday about whether banning a pornographic magazine for first-graders was "censorship" following controversy over states targeting certain controversial books and curricula in public schools.

Nadine Farid Johnson, the managing director for Washington and Free Expression Programs at PEN America, testified at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government's hearing, "Free Speech: The Biden Administration’s Chilling of Parents’ Fundamental Rights." She argued that legislation in certain states is effectively limiting the freedom of expression. 

"But attacks on free speech are not limited to college campuses, nor do they come solely from one side of the political spectrum," Johnson testified. "In the past two years, PEN America has documented an explosion of restrictions affecting free speech in education. These are in several veins: proposed and enacted legislation limiting what can be taught in high school and college 3 curricula; bans on books in school libraries and classrooms; the introduction of newly punitive measures, including fines and even criminal provisions, aimed at educators; the cancelation of school plays and field trips; the rejection of textbooks on specious grounds. And, reminiscent of 40 years ago, even efforts to donate dictionaries to some schools have been prevented." 


Johnson continued, arguing that some of these efforts are geared toward "suppressing content" from LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color.

"It must also be recognized that the movement behind these bills has brought a single-minded focus to bear on suppressing content and narratives by and about LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color," she said. "As a result, these bills will have tangible consequences for both American education and democracy, undermining the hallmarks of liberal education that set the U.S. system apart from those of authoritarian countries."

Hageman took issue with Johnson's narrative and challenged her on it.

"Do you think it is censorship to prohibit teachers from exposing first-graders to Penthouse magazine?" Hageman asked Johnson.


"I believe it is important to have parents, teachers and educators involved and understanding what… is being presented to a student," the witness first said in response.

"Do you think it is appropriate to present Penthouse to first-graders?" Hageman pressed a third time. 

"Of course not," Johnson said, giving a more direct answer.

"It’s not censorship to keep first grade students from looking at Penthouse…it’s common sense," Hageman added on Twitter after the hearing. 

Hageman reflected on the exchange in a call with Fox News Digital.

"And the controversy for people on the conservative side is largely about what is age appropriate?" she said. "What do we want our children to be seeing, learning about, and at what age is it appropriate to expose them to any of this? Now, I'm not suggesting that it is appropriate to expose our children To Penthouse, but what I was trying to get her to admit is that there are limits in terms of what is appropriate for exposing our kids. And that's why when she dodged three separate times, I wasn't going to let her get away with it, because it's really the crux of the debate."


The congresswoman said society had strayed from the true mission of education.

"What is the purpose of schools?" she asked. "Is it to educate or is it to indoctrinate? And I would argue that a lot of what we're dealing with right now and the pushback from the left is that the indoctrination has been exposed and parents are saying enough, and we're not going to tolerate it."

In her testimony, Johnson said PEN America "recognizes" the role of parents in guiding their children's education, but considered some efforts as a way to force the wishes of a minority onto the larger whole.

"We at PEN America recognize the essential role of parents in guiding and supporting their children’s education," she said. "We also understand that some calls for censorship come from parents seeking what they genuinely believe is best for their children, in a time of rapidly changing demographics, expectations, and norms in our evolving and pluralistic society. Yet, much of what we are seeing now is not a natural extension of parents being involved in their children’s classrooms. It is instead an effort to impose the wishes of a few onto entire communities, by enlisting the government to act as a proxy and engage in censorship on their behalf."

In a request for comment, Johnson told Fox News Digital that Hageman's questions "did not reflect" reality.

Rep. Hageman's line of questioning did not reflect the reality of what we are seeing in elementary schools. No one is attempting to introduce Penthouse to first graders, and no one would defend that if it were happening. 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. "In fact we have seen 317 picture books banned across the country during the 2021-2022 school year, including bans on books by beloved authors like Eric Carle. Those are the materials being banned in elementary school libraries and classrooms, and that is the censorship we are concerned about."

Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice also testified at Thursday's hearing, blasting the Department of Justice for targeting parents who have protested controversial curricula and books. A Judiciary Committee’s report revealed that the Biden administration in collusion with the NSBA "misused" authorities to investigate parents at school board meetings.

"Parents watched in horror as teachers unions fought to keep schools closed. We watched as our children struggled with depression and anxiety, their development regressing at every turn. Nationally, parents were asking when and how we had become a nation more concerned with protecting adults than children?" Justice wrote in her testimony.

"Parents who took up this right were silenced, then the premier law enforcement agency of the United States of America, the FBI, was used as a weapon by the DOJ against parents who dared to voice their concerns at the most local level - their school board," she later said.

Article was updated to include further comment from PEN America.

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