In Response To Lawmaker’s Letter, School Board Hires 1st Amendment Attorney To Clarify TN Law Regarding Obscene Materials

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

In response to a letter sent to the Wilson County Board of Education from Representative Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet-District 57), school board attorney Mike Jennings recommended, during Monday night’s meeting, that the board consult with an attorney well versed in First Amendment law. 

Lynn’s letter attempted to clarify Tennessee laws regarding book reviews and removals. 

Concerned that the county’s Book Review Committee is reviewing books that are in clear violation of Tennessee Code, Lynn said that challenged books should have been removed from the schools within the district by the board, and not sent to the committee at all.

“I am compelled to inform you that possession of this book in school and, making it available to minors, is in violation of Tennessee Criminal Code 39-17-902. Section (e)(2) of this part makes it abundantly clear that this book, being available to minors, is a Class A misdemeanor in violation of the state’s obscenity law,” wrote Lynn. “It appears that the School Board ignored the criminal code and has relied on TCA 49-6-3803 to make decisions about sexually explicit materials in our schools. To further clarify, the criminal code trumps a review by a book review committee and the school board.”

Asked by Zone 4 School Board Member Joseph Padilla to clarify the relevant state code in Title 39, Jennings stated that it would be unlikely that any criminal action would be taken against anyone, either on the school board or employed by the district, over “obscene” materials. Not only would there have to be an indictment made before a grand jury or a warrant signed by a judge by a court of record but it is “hard to prove” that someone meant to distribute material they knew was obscene “knowingly.”

Nevertheless, Jennings recommended that the board consult with Vanderbilt professor David L. Hudson Jr. who Jennings called “a 1st Amendment scholar” and author of Let the Students Speak! A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools. 

In a statement to The Tennessee Conservative made prior to Monday’s meeting, Padilla said, “There is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media about who has the authority to remove obscene books from our school libraries. I want to make it clear to Wilson County residents that we are in no danger of a potential lawsuit as long as we are following the prescribed law.”

Referencing Title 49, Padilla said, “As school board members, we cannot worry about “potential” lawsuits if there is settled law that specifically expresses our authority.” 

“Furthermore… Wilson County Schools District places a filter on the chromebooks to protect students from accessing inappropriate materials,” he said. “Banning websites is no different than removing books.”

In response to community members who say removing books violates the constitution, Padilla pointed out that, “we violate many, many constitutional rights in the name of safety for our children.”

“Do students and teachers have the right to dress any way they want on school grounds? If not, how is that not a violation of freedom of expression? Can a teacher conceal carry on school grounds? If not, how is that not a violation of the 2nd Amendment? Can a student refuse a search on school grounds without a warrant? If not, how is that not a violation of illegal search and seizure? You see, we actually violate a lot of constitutional rights in the spirit of protecting our children while at school,” said Padilla. 

There was some discussion among board members as to whether seeking counsel from an outside attorney was premature. Zone 2 School Board Member Dr. Beth Meyers stated that there is an Attorney General opinion pending on the matter, that the state legislature is in session and may amend laws, and that the Tennessee Textbook Commission is due to issue guidance next month. 

Jennings assured the board that under the Age Appropriate Materials Act, the board has the authority to remove books and that removal of materials is not “banning books.”

The board voted unanimously to seek counsel from Hudson out of an abundance of caution should a lawsuit be filed against the district. 

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at

4 thoughts on “In Response To Lawmaker’s Letter, School Board Hires 1st Amendment Attorney To Clarify TN Law Regarding Obscene Materials

  • February 8, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    I can understand why the board might be confused, since then Rep. Lynn amongst many other state representatives were all-in on the lie of Common Core “State” Standards in 2010. These included a list of reading “text exemplars” in the English Language Arts portion which contained pornographic material (Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” comes to mind). Pointing out the same law back then had no effect.

  • February 9, 2023 at 12:53 am

    Hiring an attorney prematurely just costs the taxpayers more! My county, Loudon County, has no problem doing it too, be it the School Board or County Commission.

    • February 9, 2023 at 12:26 pm

      Do they then start paying them indefinitely and refer to them as the “County attorney” even though no such position exists nor was created by county commission? That’s how Blount County does it (with a 100% “republican” commission, including now Rep. Jerome Moon).

  • February 10, 2023 at 5:23 pm

    Hiring a Vanderbilt professor who is “an expert on the 1st amendment” would be both expensive and a guess as to whether he is biased. Most Vanderbilt, and other major university professors, are decidedly liberal.


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