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.)