North Dakota bans library’s ‘sex-specific’ books

Books with “sexual” content — including references to sexuality or gender — would be banned from North Dakota public libraries under legislation that state lawmakers began considering Tuesday. .

The GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee heard arguments but did not take a vote on the measure, which targets “sexually explicit” images and mandates up to 30 days in prison. prison for librarians who refuse to remove delinquent books.

The proposal comes in the midst of the country’s Republican-backed laws to ban books that depict LGBTQ issues – although usually those bills are limited to school libraries, not the public.

The supporters of the bill said that it will save the innocence of children and reduce their exposure to pornography.

But critics say the measure is “deeply discriminatory” and allows the government to justify things that aren’t ugly.

House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, of Dickinson, introduced the bill and said that public libraries now have books that contain “disturbing and disgusting” material, including those that describes the virgin as a silly name and confirms the gender of water.

Lefor argued that a child’s involvement in such issues is related to addiction, poor self-esteem, the importance of close relationships, increased divorce, unprotected sex among young people and the quality of well-being – although he did not offer any evidence to support such statements. .

Autumn Richard of Stark County also spoke in support of the bill, giving examples of clear issues in the picture book “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” and children’s comic book “Sex Is. a Fun Word” — all available in public libraries.

Richard argued that the books may be useful to understand about treatment, body image and abusive relationships, but many of the sections present information that he says is harmful to young children.

Although supporters of the North Dakota bill repeatedly called the sex act “obscene,” opponents said the items in question were not actually considered legally obscene.

“Nearly 50 years ago, the (US) Supreme Court set the highest standard for defining obscenity,” said Cody Schuler, associate director at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota. , who testified against the bill.

Obscenity is a narrow, well-defined category of unprotected speech that excludes any work of literary, artistic, political or scientific importance, Schuler said. Few, if any, books are considered obscene, and the standard for restricting a library’s ability to distribute a book is more fair, Schuler added.

The definition of pornography is also specific, say the opponents of the bill.

Librarian Christine Kujawa said at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, the library has a book with two little hamsters on the cover. At the end of the book, the hamsters get married, and they are both male.

“It’s an interesting book,” said Kujawa — but pornography will be considered under the bill because the book includes gender identity.

Facing criminal charges for keeping books on the shelves is “something I never thought I’d have to think about in my career as a librarian,” Kujawa added.

In addition to banning images of “sexual identity” and “gender identity,” the measure specifies 10 other things that library books cannot display visually, e.g. including “sex”, “relationship” and “sexual immorality” – although not defined. any of those terms. The proposal does not apply to books that have “significant literary value” or “materials for scientific education,” with other exceptions.

The bill would allow prosecutors to charge anyone who displays these items in places visited by children with a felony B. The maximum penalty is 30 days in jail. and a fine of $1,500.

The wave of attempts to ban books and limit them continues to increase in the country, the American Library Association reported in September. The numbers for 2022 reached last year’s total, which was the highest in ten years. Bills to restrict adult content in school libraries became law last year in Tennessee, Utah, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma.

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