FACT CHECK: Does new library law ban the Bible and Captain Underpants?

FACT CHECK: Does new library law ban the Bible and Captain Underpants?

Outcry from parents over children’s access to pornographic books in public school and community libraries has reached fever pitch in recent years.

Soon, these parents will finally be given the legal recourse they’ve demanded.

After three years of legislative showdowns over the issue of library pornography, the Children’s School and Library Protection Act will become law on July 1.

This groundbreaking new law—which largely utilizes model legislation drafted by Idaho Family Policy Center—creates civil liability for schools and libraries that make obscene materials available to minor children.

However, progressive librarians and activist journalists aren’t giving up. They’ve mounted a full-scale information warfare campaign to mislead the public about the scope of the new law.

We want to help prepare YOU to combat this misinformation. Here’s a list of falsehoods you should be ready to dismantle:

 

FALSE: The new law opens the door for parents to challenge books like the Holy Bible, Captain Underpants, or Judy Bloom.

In a stunning demonstration of not knowing what you’re talking about, Bryan Clark of the Idaho Statesman stated that prudent librarians would “refuse to lend copies of the Bible to children” if the legislation became law.

Clark also warned that librarians would preemptively remove Plato, Shakespeare, and To Kill a Mockingbird from library circulation.

Of course, such overblown alarmism is entirely unjustified. The text of the new law is clear: The only books that fall under its scope are those which, when considered as a whole, (1) appeal to the prurient interest of minors, (2) depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and (3) lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

These three prongs comprise the modified Miller test, which has been used by federal courts for more than half a century to determine which sexually explicit materials can be restricted for minor children. Put simply, the only books that meet all three prongs of the modified Miller test are those that are highly pornographic and unsuitable for minors, period.

Importantly, not one of the aforementioned books meet any one of these three criteria, let alone all three prongs of these criteria simultaneously.

To be clear, Shakespeare and Captain Underpants don’t appeal to the prurient interest of minors—and these works contain serious literary, artistic, and political value for minor children.

So rest assured, dear readers! In the end, exaggerated claims about the banning of classic or controversial literary works will prove to be ‘much ado about nothing.’

 

FALSE: Libraries need costly upgrades and increased personnel to comply with the law.

After news broke earlier this month that the Donnelly Public Library had decided to become an adult-only library, Rep. Lauren Necochea (D-Boise), who serves as Assistant Minority Leader in the Idaho House of Representatives, took to social media to blame Republican legislators:

“The GOP lawmakers who voted the attack on libraries into law were told repeatedly that rural libraries aren’t big enough to have separate adult and child sections. This wasn’t a problem until the GOP passed bad legislation that threatens libraries’ modest funds.”

Here’s what Rep. Necochea and the Donnelly Public Library are (probably intentionally) missing: The Children’s School and Library Protection Act only requires libraries to take reasonable steps to restrict children’s access to obscene materials. There’s simply no requirement that they separate adult and children’s sections or take any other unreasonable measures.

So how do libraries comply with the law? One easy and inexpensive solution is to place pornographic books in a small, locked bookshelf behind the main desk. This allows librarians to effectively prevent children from accessing these materials.

 

FALSE: Parents can set up schools and libraries by placing obscene books in libraries as a pretext for filing a lawsuit.

Opponents of the Children’s School and Library Protection Act claim that the potential for civil damages “invites mischief and grift.”

Take Sen. Mary Shea (D-Pocatello), who told her fellow legislators, “It would be very easy to put a book you don’t like in the wrong place in the library just to file a lawsuit about it.”

That would be very problematic—if it were true. But thankfully, our state court system already has processes in place to deal with fraudulent claimants.

Consider the classic ‘slip and fall’ accident, where a grocery store patron stages an injury for the purpose of filing a fraudulent claim. The civil court process is designed to thoroughly investigate claims like these—and fraudulent claims carry a felony charge and prison time, which serve as a strong deterrent for crooked schemes.

 

FALSE: The Children’s School and Library Protection Act is a solution in search of a problem.

According to an op-ed from the entire editorial board of the Idaho Statesman, public concern about library pornography is a “bogeyman” invented by extreme conservatives:

“Vilifying librarians as groomers and falsely claiming there’s pornography in our libraries is just the latest bogeyman in the culture wars being waged by the far right. Kids aren’t getting porn from libraries.”

So what’s the truth? Is there really porn in libraries, anyway?

To answer this question, Idaho Family Policy Center scoured the catalogs of Idaho public school and community libraries across the state—and we found that over 50 libraries in nearly 35 communities make pornographic materials available to minors.

The Children’s School and Library Protection Act solves this widespread problem, ensuring that schools and libraries are safe places for children.

 

FALSE: Books with same-sex attracted characters will no longer be available to children.

If you listen to the media, you’d be forgiven for thinking any book containing even a mention of homosexuality will need to be kept away from children.

Most recently, a contributor for Forbes magazine wrote that the Children’s School and Library Protection Act “includes a broad definition of ‘harmful to minors’ which [includes] any act of homosexuality.”

But the chicken littles fail to mention that homosexual conduct falls under the scope of this new law only if it meets the legal standard for obscenity. This means books with same-sex attracted characters will be affected only if they’re pornographic—just like books featuring straight couples.

 

FALSE: Books with depictions of nudity—including sex education books—will no longer be available to children.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) claimed the restrictions outlined in the Children’s School and Library Protection Act “would include Michelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.”

It goes without saying that both of these famous works of art contain serious artistic value for children—and neither appeals to the prurient interest of minors in the same way as pornography.

But it’s also worth mentioning that federal courts have repeatedly held that nudity per se is not obscene. Images, paintings, pictures, and statues containing depictions of nudity would fall under the scope of the new law only if they’re intended to arouse the sexual desires of minors.

Not only is the statue of David safe, then, but so are sex education textbooks that contain age-appropriate scientific value for their young readers. After all, we’re not prudes. We just don’t want children exposed to pornographic materials.

 

FALSE: The Children’s School and Library Protection Act opens the door to book-banning and book-burning.

When an earlier version of the Children’s School and Library Protection Act was debated in the Idaho House of Representatives last year, Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen (R-Idaho Falls) proclaimed, “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people.”

So is the Children’s School and Library Protection Act a Nazi-style book ban? Of course not.

The new law doesn’t ban any books. In fact, schools and public libraries will still have the prerogative to make pornographic books available to adults, so long as they take reasonable steps to restrict children’s access to minors.

And by the way, parents can still check-out or purchase pornographic materials for their children. Librarians just can’t use taxpayer dollars to expose children to sexually graphic works.

Blaine Conzatti serves as president for Idaho Family Policy Center.

Grace Howat serves as policy analyst for Idaho Family Policy Center.

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