Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe | Joseph Sohm, Shutterstock

McAuliffe vetoes 'Beloved' education legislation

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the so-called "Beloved Bill," legislation that would have required local schools to notify parents about the use of instructional material containing sexually explicit content, and mandated that teachers provide alternative content if a parent objects to the original material.

In his veto message, McAuliffe said the state's board of education "is already considering this issue in a broader and more complete context," and that the bill's "lack of flexibility" would "require the label of 'sexually explicit' to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context."

The legislation, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave), passed the House of Delegates 98-0. The Senate approved the measure 22-17, indicating the chances of a veto override are uncertain.

A two-thirds majority in each chamber is needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

Landes said in a statement that giving parents the authority to control what their children see and read in school is an extension of what they already do in the home.

“Parents make decisions every day about what video games kids play, what movies they watch and what material they consume online," Landes said. "They should have the same opportunity within the classroom.”

Family Foundation president Victoria Cobb called McAuliffe's veto "remarkable," adding that the governor "has so little respect for parents who simply want to know and be free to make decisions about what their kids are being taught."

The bill drew national attention, with free-speech advocates sending McAuliffe a letter in early March urging him the veto the measure.

In that letter, the National Coalition for Free Speech said the Landes bill "would prejudice educationally valuable content," and cited a number of works, including "The Canterbury Tales," the Bible and "most works by William Shakespeare" as examples of material that could be banned in classrooms.

The group lauded McAuliffe's veto, saying in a statement that the "selection of educational materials rightly belongs in the hands of Virginia's professional educators."

The bill's "Beloved" nickname stems from a Fairfax County parent's effort to have Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of that name removed from the reading list of her son's AP English class.

According to the American Library Association, "Beloved" is one of the 10 most-challenged books in the nation, in part owing to its depiction of a runaway slave named "Sethe," who kills her 2-year-old daughter rather than see her condemned to a life of servitude on a Kentucky plantation.

This was the third time in recent weeks that McAuliffe has vetoed bills on hot-button issues passed by the Republican-majority legislature in Virginia. He also vetoed a bill touted as protecting religious liberty and another that would have barred the state from giving funding to Planned Parenthood.