BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – A new Idaho bill would open schools and public libraries to lawsuits for allowing minors to obtain books, films and other media that depict sexual content deemed “offensive.”
The legislation, from Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa, would allow parents to sue schools and libraries if employees gave their child “harmful” material or if the institution failed to take “reasonable steps to restrict access” to “harmful” materials for minors.
The bill mirrors a current Idaho law that prohibits giving children under 18 “harmful” material that features “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sado-masochistic abuse” when it’s lewd or “patently offensive to prevailing standards” among adults.
“Sexual conduct” under the law includes depictions of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse and physical contact with genitals and female breasts.
“Seeing as these public school and community libraries are funded by Idaho taxpayer dollars, it is in the best interest of our state that these institutions make a reasonable effort to restrict access to children when it comes to these materials in libraries,” Crane told the House State Affairs Committee on Monday.
Currently, schools, libraries, colleges, universities and museums are exempt from the law barring the distribution of “harmful” materials to minors. Last year, the Idaho House passed a bill that would have removed the exemption and made employees of those institutions liable for criminal penalties. Senate Republicans declined to hold a hearing on the bill, effectively killing it.
LIBRARIES ATTACKED OVER LGBTQ, SEXUAL CONTENT
Crane’s bill creates civil, rather than criminal, liability for schools and libraries. A guardian of a child who was able to obtain “harmful” material from a library or school can claim $10,000 in statutory damages for each instance the material was obtained.
The bill allows legal defenses if the school or library employee had “reasonable cause to believe” the person obtaining “harmful” material was 18 or older or if the minor obtaining the material had permission from a guardian.
The bill comes amid a nationwide movement, by activists and public officials, to restrict minors’ access to sexual content in libraries, particularly material with LGBTQ content. In Meridian last summer, activists flooded library board meetings, accusing officials of distributing “smut-filled pornography” to children.
A Nampa school board last year banned nearly two dozen books, including “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.
In North Idaho, a library director resigned amid what she called “militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics and threatening behavior” over the library’s content moderation policy.
The Idaho Family Policy Center, a Christian lobbying group that’s co-sponsoring Crane’s bill, in a Monday blog post about the legislation included a photo of an LGBTQ Pride book display. The group also has pushed lawmakers to ban drag shows and block doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth.
“No one is talking about banning books,” Idaho Family Police Center President Blaine Conzatti said in a news release. “We’re simply asking that schools and libraries take reasonable steps to prevent children from accessing pornographic material.”