Casey Smith, writing for the Indiana Capital Chronicle, reports on the last minute amendment to HB 1447 in the waning hours of session to combat the non-existent “problem” of obscenity in school libraries. There just isn’t a scourge of obscene material floating around our school libraries. The idea that we need to adopt a law creating a procedure to deal with obscenity in school libraries is one of those “the question is an accusation” kind of dynamics. “They wouldn’t need a process if there wasn’t a significant problem would they?”
The language slipped into the bill requires a school to have a process to handle complaints by a parent or community member requesting that a school library remove material that is obscene or is harmful to minors under the respective statutory definitions for each. “Harmful to minors” largely tracks the obscenity language but is slightly broader, so I’ll quote it here:
A matter or performance is harmful to minors for purposes of this article if:
(1) it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;
(2) considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;
(3) it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for or performance before minors; and
(4) considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
It’s good that the new language limits the complaint process to community members or parents of students. It’s also good that the standard is basically an obscenity standard rather than merely something that a person finds offensive.
But the obnoxious element is that it requires the process include a public hearing at the governing body at its next public hearing. So, it encourages grandstanding and, by setting a limited time table for the hearing, discourages deliberation. I think my inclination would be to set up a system with a rigorous screening process that requires the person making the complaint to make an initial showing in their complaint filing that the material of which they complain meets the “harmful to minor standards.” In other words, you have to make a credible presentation showing that the material you’re complaining of meets all four of those elements necessary for something to be “harmful to minors.” If you can’t make the initial showing and you’re just complaining about non-obscene material that you happen to find offensive, then this process is not for you; and you don’t get your complaint elevated to the level of a public hearing in front of the school board.
Just thinking outside the box, I wonder if you could create some kind of opt-in mailing list of community members who want to know when someone is trying to remove materials from the library and, as part of the process, the person making the complaint has to send notice of their intention to everyone on that list so that those concerned citizens would have an opportunity to attend the hearing.
Anyway, this is another entirely unnecessary law. In this case, it seems designed to reinforce the unfounded notion that our kids are under attack by shadowy, lurking forces that would corrupt them. Maybe in the school library! (Incidentally, I was just watching a documentary on Judy Blume. People lost their damn minds about her books 50 years ago. So, history may not repeat, but it rhymes.)
An unwarranted and unwise law. I do not understand the obsession with micromanaging schools. What happened to the GOP notion of letting people be? I shall oppose this law with every fiber of my being.
It’s bad enough to have the Tippecanoe County Mutaween over at 111 North 4th Street filing cases on their feelings and their understanding of virtue and morality and not the criminal law, but now they get to play religious police “for the children.” I am less than enthused.
“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”
?Heinrich Heine, 1822
Did they remove the part that made it a felony and gave it a $10,000 fine?
One of these days, I’d like to buy you a beer and have you show me how to navigate the legislature’s website, because it was NOT AT ALL intuitive and I ended up misinforming myself once or twice.
Doug Masson says
I don’t see any new penalty provisions. Distributing “material harmful to minors” was already a Level 6 Felony which carries a potential penalty of 2.5 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000. Prior to this legislation, it was a defense to that crime that the prohibited acts were done for a legitimate educational purpose or by a school. Now legitimate educational purposes are no longer a defense and the “school” defense is only available to colleges and universities. So, in the sense that previous defenses are no longer available, it’s accurate to say that they are imposing felony status on situations that were previously exempt.
I don’t love the General Assembly’s website. The “beta” version they made available this year is better. But prior to 2011, I think, they made less use of PDFs and frames. In my opinion, the site was easier to use back then.