Alabama’s proposed law threatens librarians with jail for ‘obscene’ books

Alabama legislators, led by Rep. Arnold Mooney, have introduced a contentious bill, H.B. 385, that has librarians and free speech advocates up in arms. The proposed legislation seeks to extend criminal obscenity laws to public and school libraries, a move that critics argue could lead to the incarceration of librarians for the content of their collections.

Key Details of the Proposed Legislation:

  1. Introduced by Rep. Arnold Mooney with the support of 30 other lawmakers.
  2. Aims to remove obscenity law exemptions for public and school libraries.
  3. Expands the definition of sexual conduct to include a broad range of material deemed inappropriate for minors.
  4. Threatens librarians with penalization or arrest for possessing certain materials.

“This bill is government overreach, robs parents of their rights, and would have a chilling effect on free speech by potentially incarcerating librarians because particular books are available, including even the Bible,” declared Matthew Layne, president of the Alabama Library Association.

The Controversy Surrounding H.B. 385:

  1. Critics argue the bill’s vague definitions could encompass a wide array of literature, from educational texts to religious scriptures.
  2. The bill’s focus on public and school libraries specifically has raised concerns about targeted censorship and the undermining of educational freedom.

EveryLibrary, a political action committee for libraries, has launched a campaign to mobilize Alabama residents against H.B. 385. Their message highlights the bill’s potential impact on free speech and the constitutional rights of both librarians and the public.

“I am one of your constituents and I want to know why Alabama lawmakers think jailing librarians and chilling free speech is a winnable argument,” reads part of the pre-written message provided by EveryLibrary to concerned citizens.

The backdrop to this legislative effort is a broader national trend of book bans and censorship, with PEN America reporting over 5,894 instances of book bans across 41 states from July 2021 to June 2023. This context highlights the significance of Alabama’s H.B. 385 as part of a wider assault on free access to information.

The proposed legislation has also drawn parallels to a similar law in Arkansas, which was blocked by a federal judge, signaling potential constitutional challenges ahead.

As the debate over H.B. 385 unfolds, the message from its critic EveryLibrary is clear: “You are not protecting children; you are protecting extremists who are trying to dismantle the very foundations of my country.” This stark admonition from EveryLibrary’s campaign captures the essence of the opposition’s stance, framing the bill as an existential threat to fundamental American values.

As the Alabama Library Association’s Matthew Layne summarizes, “Montgomery politicians are now seeking to criminalize librarians simply for doing their jobs.”


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