A political ad released Monday by Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin features Laura Murphy, a mother who says she was disturbed by her school-aged son's assigned reading material.
However, the incident she describes occurred in 2011 when her son was a 17-year-old senior in an Advanced Placement (AP) English class. Her son, Blake Murphy, is now a 27-year-old lawyer working as the associate general counsel for the Washington D.C.-based National Republican Congressional Committee, Raw Story reported.
Youngkin's political ad shows Laura Murphy, described as a mother from Fairfax County, speaking in a living room setting.
"As a mother, it's tough to catch everything," she says. "So when my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk. It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine."
Laura Murphy doesn't mention how old her son was or the specific material she objected to—but she's referring to Beloved, author Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 1987. The book ranks 26th on the American Library Association's list of top 100 most frequently banned books of the past decade.
Beloved, set shortly after the end of the Civil War, centers upon a former slave who murders her own 2-year-old daughter rather than have her subjected to a brutal existence under slavery. The book includes depictions of violence, rape, murder, and other horrific portrayals of slavery's evils.
In 2013, Blake Murphy told The Washington Post that the book gave him "night terrors." Night terrors include "episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing" that occur while a person stays asleep, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"It was disgusting and gross," Blake Murphy told the publication. "It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it."
In 2012, Laura Murphy cited the book while pushing for The Fairfax County School Board to require teachers to notify parents in advance of any assignments that include "objectionable material." The policy would've allowed parents to let their children opt-out of such material and view alternative texts instead.
The board voted 6-2 against hearing her challenge, and the book remained in the district's AP English classes.
In response, she met with lawmakers who "couldn't believe what I was showing them," she said in Youngkin's political ad. "Their faces turned bright red with embarrassment."
After the school board's vote, she lobbied representatives in the state's Republican-led General Assembly over the issue. In 2016, the Assembly passed a bill with bipartisan support giving parents the leeway to opt their children out from reading sexually explicit texts. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill that year and another one like it the following year.
"[McAuliffe] doesn't think parents should have a say. He said that. He shut us out," Laura Murphy says in the political ad. "Glenn Youngkin, he listens. He understands parents matter."
"Parents matter" is a slogan used by Youngkin's gubernatorial campaign. His platform centers on his support for angry parents who have protested school policies at recent board meetings across the state.
One of his political ads, released earlier this month, claimed that "the FBI is trying to silence parents" after Attorney General Merrick Garland asked the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices to meet with federal and local law enforcement to "discuss strategies for addressing...the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel."
A June meeting of the Loudoun County school board devolved into violence and was shut down as an "unlawful assembly" by local police after parents and others protested against "critical race theory" and policies protecting transgender students.
In response to Youngkin's latest ad, McAuliffe said in a written statement, "Youngkin has doubled down on the same divisive culture wars that have fueled his campaign from the very beginning. Youngkin's closing message of book banning and silencing esteemed Black authors is a racist dog whistle designed to gin up support from the most extreme elements of his party—mainly his top endorser and surrogate, Donald Trump."
In response, Youngkin's campaign said that the vetoed legislation mentioned in the ad "would simply have notified parents of sexually explicit reading assignments and given them the choice of having their child receive an alternative. McAuliffe continues to confirm every day that he wants to silence parents because he doesn't believe they should have a say in their child's education."
In a statement to Newsweek, National Education Association President Becky Pringle wrote, "The fact that Glenn Youngkin is siding with those who want to ban books, standing with those who want to remove information about Martin Luther King Jr. or Ruby Bridges from school libraries, and allying himself with those demanding that students are taught opposing views to the Holocaust should disqualify him in the mind of all voters."
McAuliffe maintained a consistent lead over Youngkin in summertime polling. However, recent voter surveys have shown him only 5 points or fewer ahead of Youngkin among likely voters.
Update (10/27/2021, 7:10 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from the National Education Association.