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Texas lawmaker says 850 books ranging from race to sexuality could cause 'discomfort'

Teachers union fires back: “What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?"
Image: Matt Krause
Texas Rep. Matt Krause, center, stands with his family during the opening prayer for the 86th Texas legislative session, on Jan. 8, 2019, in Austin.Eric Gay / AP file

A Texas Republican lawmaker has drawn up a list of 850 books on subjects ranging from racism to sexuality that could “make students feel discomfort,” and is demanding that school districts across the state report whether any are in their classrooms or libraries.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, also wants to know how many copies of each book the districts have and how much money they spent on them, according to a letter he sent Monday to Lily Laux, deputy commissioner of school programs at the Texas Education Agency, and several school district superintendents.

Krause, who chairs the state’s House Committee on General Investigating, also directed the districts to identify “any other books” that could cause students “guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

"Your prompt attention to this request is appreciated," he wrote, giving them a Nov. 12 deadline to respond.

Along with the letter, which was first obtained by The Texas Tribune, Krause appended the book list that includes well-known titles like the Pulitzer Prize-winning William Styron novel, “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and best-sellers that were turned into movies or television series, such as John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules,” Alan Moore’s dystopian “V For Vendetta,” and the graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Krause did not explain in the letter exactly why he was seeking this information, but his investigation came just months after Texas lawmakers tried to ban critical race theory from school campuses.

The lawmaker noted that a number of Texas school districts of late “have removed books from libraries and/or classrooms after receiving objections from students, parents, and taxpayers.”

One of them, according to the letter, is the Carroll Independent School District in the affluent Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of Southlake.

Southlake has been the subject of a recent NBC News investigation into racism in that school system and the fight over CRT, which holds that racism is embedded in the country’s institutions. CRT has also become shorthand for conservatives opposed to teaching about the racist roots of U.S. history.

Krause did not respond when NBC News reached out with specific questions about his letter, about his choice of books, and whether he had read any of the books on the list.

"Any information held by the committee related to its investigative work, including the fact of any responsive information, is confidential by law and therefore excepted from disclosure," the committee's general counsel, Darren Keyes, said later in an email.

Rep. Victoria Neave, a Dallas Democrat who is vice-chair of the investigating committee, said she first heard about Krause’s letter from a school official and called it a “politically motivated” stunt. Krause is one of several candidates running to be the state’s next attorney general.

The state’s teachers union said Krause’s move “smacks of a witch hunt.”

“Rep. Krause’s letter demanding that school superintendents provide him with lists of books dealing with certain subjects on their school bookshelves is disturbing and political overreach into the classroom,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement. “What will Rep. Krause propose next? Burning books he and a handful of parents find objectionable?”

The list of books also includes titles from Black writers, such as “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall.

Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which, among other things, made the case that Nazi Germany modeled its anti-Semitic policies on the segregation of Black people in the United States, also made Krause’s list.

Also on the list are books about abortion and homosexuality, such as “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”

Krause's list also includes a book that was a hit with conservative readers, namely “Eyes on Target: Inside Stories from the Brotherhood of the U.S. Navy SEALs” by Scott McEwen and Richard Miniter.

Told that his book landed on Krause's list, McEwen said "I find that very distressing."

"This book is not anti-anything," he said. "It's basically an anthem to the Navy SEALs. I don't care which side of the political spectrum you're on. Banning books is wrong. I am completely against the banning of books."