The effort to ban books has expanded beyond the classroom now to public libraries, with a new GOP-backed bill adding librarians to their target for prosecution and civil fines of those they believe give access to materials that are “obscene or harmful to minors.”
A collection of 14 Iowa Republican representatives introduced a bill Tuesday that makes it illegal for a person affiliated with a public school or public library to knowingly spread “material the person knows or reasonably should know, is obscene or harmful to minors.” Colleges and universities are exempted.
The penalty would be an aggravated misdemeanor, upgraded to a class D felony if the person was previously guilty of this.
Aggravated misdemeanors can be punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine between $625 and $6,250. Class D felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine between $750 and $7,500.
The goal of this bill and related proposals have come from a far-right effort to remove books written about LGBTQ characters and characters of color, however the language in this bill could greatly expand the list of targeted materials for civil lawsuits.
It also expands the list of who can be charged for obscenity violations to “a person affiliated with an entity that provides products or services to such schools or libraries in this state.” That could theoretically include people involved with setting up Scholastic book fairs.
House File 2176 also would remove the exemption for public libraries and educational institutions, making it legal only for college and university libraries and programs to have “obscene” material.
The legal definition of obscenity is: “any material depicting or describing the genitals, sex acts, masturbation, excretory functions or sadomasochistic abuse which the average person, taking the material as a whole and applying contemporary community standards with respect to what is suitable material for minors, would find appeals to the prurient interest and is patently offensive; and the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value.”
So, the same standards taking into account a work’s “serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value” would likely still apply in a legal proceeding because the law doesn’t change the definition of obscenity.
However, the law would also allow a parent or guardian to bring civil action against any public or private school or public library if that parent or guardian’s child receives obscene material. Under this civil section, the material being used in curriculum or for educational purposes would not matter.
“It is not a defense to an action brought under this section that the materials disseminated are labeled as curriculum, approved for an educational use, or otherwise described to be for educational purposes,” the bill reads.
The minimum award would be $10,000 and the winning party will be awarded all court fees.
If this law were to pass, it would take effect immediately.
The representatives, all Republicans, who introduced the law are:
- Sandy Salmon of Janesville,
- Jeff Shipley of Fairfield,
- Anne Osmundson of Volga,
- Mark Cisneros of Muscatine,
- Jon Jacobsen of Council Bluffs,
- Henry Stone of Forest City,
- Cherielynn Westrich of Ottumwa,
- Steven Bradley of Cascade,
- Tom Jeneary of Le Mars,
- Stan Gustafson or Norwalk,
- Martin Graber of Fort Madison,
- Terry Baxter of Garner,
- Cecil Dolecheck of Mount Ayr,
- and Dennis Bush of Cherokee.
by Nikoel Hytrek