Fact Checking McAuliffe’s Claim That Youngkin Wants to Ban Books by Black Authors

Youngkin has criticized McAuliffe for vetoing laws that would have allowed parents to opt kids out of readings that contain sexual material.

The Democratic nominee in the Virginia gubernatorial race Terry McAuliffe has accused his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin of “want[ing] to ban books by prominent Black authors from Virginia schools.”

McAuliffe has made similar comments in the past few days, claiming that Youngkin is “closing his campaign on banning books … he wants to ban Toni Morrison’s book Beloved” in an interview with Meet the Press on Sunday. The basis for this claim is Youngkin’s criticism of McAuliffe’s veto of two bills that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of reading texts that contain sexual material.

Neither bill banned books from schools, as the bills applied only to required readings in the classroom—they would not have allowed for books to be removed from the school library. The bills don’t even act as a ban of books with sexually explicit material being required reading either: The opportunity to read them remains for students whose parents did not take issue with the texts, with students who were opted out of required reading receiving an alternative assignment. McAuliffe vetoed the first bill containing these provisions in 2016 and then another similar bill in 2017. Both received bipartisan support: 18 Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly voted for at least one of the bills, and 14 of the Democrats in question were members of the Black Legislative Caucus. 

At the center of the debate was Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, a book set in antebellum Cincinnati that explores the effects of slavery. The book also contains scenes of sexual abuse, and because it is assigned reading in some schools it was cited as an example of content parents were uncomfortable with their children encountering, leading to the 2016 bill being nicknamed “the ‘Beloved’ bill.”

While Youngkin has expressed support for the bills that McAuliffe vetoed, neither bill would ban books and Youngkin has not expressed support for doing so elsewhere. 

The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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