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Gov. Greg Abbott demands criminal investigation of so-called 'pornography' in public schools

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Gov. Greg Abbott speaks last month at a Kingwood Tea Party event. The governor has doubled down on hard-right issues as he tries to stave off a challenge in the GOP primary. - INSTAGRAM / GOVERNORABBOTT
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  • Gov. Greg Abbott speaks last month at a Kingwood Tea Party event. The governor has doubled down on hard-right issues as he tries to stave off a challenge in the GOP primary.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott escalated his crusade against what he calls "obscene content" in public schools Wednesday, demanding in a letter that the Texas Education Agency investigate criminal activity related to minors accessing "pornography" on campus.

Without offering proof any such material exists, Abbott urged the TEA, which has no law-enforcement authority, to look for instances where students under 18 were given access to porn "for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law." A spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement on Wednesday confirmed to the Texas Tribune that the education agency doesn't employ any licensed peace officers.

Wednesday's letter comes just two days after the Republican governor demanded that the TEA, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education develop new standards to bar "obscene content" from public schools.

It also follows a late October demand from State Rep. Matt Krause that school superintendents provide an accounting for some 850 books dealing with racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and gender issues that the Fort Worth Republican identified as objectionable.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that no Texas child is exposed to pornography or obscene content while in a Texas public school, and your investigation will help accomplish this mission," Abbott wrote Wednesday's letter.

The crackdown appears to be another attempt by Abbott to appeal to hard-right voters ahead of the 2022 Republican primary, where he faces challenges from fringe candidates including controversial former Texas GOP head Allen West, said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson.

Controversy over textbooks is a reliable issue for spinning up Lone Star State conservatives, according to Jillson. What's more, Abbott is seizing on a key blunder in Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's failed reelection campaign — his declaration that, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

"Texas conservatives' fixation on school textbooks is always present," Jillson said. "It can always be energized."

Abbott's new letter failed to identify any specific examples of obscene material found in Texas schools. His first letter only contained two examples that he considered obscene, both LGBTQ-themed memoirs that feature frank descriptions of sexual acts.

As the state's former attorney general, it seems likely that Abbott is aware the U.S. Supreme Court in 1957 defined “obscene speech” as being “utterly without redeeming social importance.” The two books the governor cited in Monday's letter are critically lauded works of literature which courts are unlikely to find meet that definition.

What's more, there's evidence that the attacks Abbott and other Texas GOP lawmakers have recently directed at school books is having the opposite of their desired effect — assuming they actually intend to cut off access to the material rather than simply wield it for political gain.

During a speaking engagement this week, award-winning author Jerry Craft — whose books dealing with issues of race ended up Krause's list — said the controversy has helped drive new sales, the Houston Chronicle reports. Katy ISD temporarily removed Craft's books from campus after parental complaints.

"I don't think that the people that banned it actually read the book," Craft said. "What has happened is so many places have sold so many copies because now people want to see what all the hubbub is. They get it and they write to me and they're almost disappointed because there's no big thing that they were looking for."

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