North Dakota Republicans want to ban library books showing same sex relationships
Republicans in North Dakota are ramping up the war on free speech by threatening to ban books containing what they deem “sexually explicit” content from the state’s public libraries.
The state’s solidly Republican House Judiciary Committee heard arguments for a proposed piece of legislation that would ban the visual content from public libraries. Librarians found violating the law could get up to 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine under the proposed legislation.
The committee ultimately did not vote on the measure.
While this is not the first time a group of conservatives has pressed a state agency to ban books — right-wing parent groups have been demanding that educators censor certain texts from their children’s schools — it is notable for targeting public libraries state-wide.
The measure was introduced by North Dakota House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, who complained that public libraries carried books filled with “disturbing and disgusting” content, the Associated Press reports. The content he found objectionable included a book that claimed that virginity is a silly label while another stated that gender was fluid.
He argued that children who view material he finds objectionable could start down the path toward addiction, intimacy problems, divorce, and unprotected sex, though he provided no evidence to support his claims.
Opponents of the bill noted that lawmakers frequently used the word “obscene,” and pointed out that the content they hoped to ban would not be legally considered obscene material.
Cody Schuler, an advocacy manager at the American Civil Liberties Union, testified to the legislature that the material in question is not obscene and should not be censored, noting that the definition was laid down by the US Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago.
He also noted that obscenity was a narrow and very specific category of speech not protected by the Constitution, and that in order for a book to be considered obscene, it must provide no serious literary, political, artistic or scientific purpose.
Christine Kujawa, the director at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, testified that a cute children’s book starring two male hamsters who end up married at the end would be considered pornography if the ultra-restrictive law was passed.
The proposed measure would prohibit libraries from carrying books that contain depictions of sexual identity, gender identity, or descriptions of sexual intercourse, sexual preference, and sexual perversion, though the legislation provides no definitions for those categories nor does it lay out who gets to craft the definitions.