INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers on Thursday gave their final approval to a bill that could make it easier to ban books from public school libraries.
The bill would require school libraries to publicly post a list of books they offer and provide a complaints process for community members. Schools and librarians could also no longer argue, as a legal defense, that the texts in their libraries have “educational” value. The law would still allow them to argue the text has literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
“That’s how I would describe educational, by the way,” GOP Rep. Martin Carbaugh said before the House voted 70-27 in favor of it.
The language was derived from a Senate proposal that passed in February and had come up in various other bills this session. It was added Thursday to a House bill related to student assessments and received quick approval from the House and Senate. The bill now heads to to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Those who supported the legislation expressed concern that sexually inappropriate or “pornographic” materials are available to children. Critics, however, said the legislation could open the door to banning books simply because some people don’t like the topics, as well as criminal prosecutions of educators for providing such books.
“Do we really want some parents choosing books for what other kids are reading or not reading?” Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford, the state’s only openly gay legislator, said Thursday. “I still think it’s a slippery slope.”
Republican state Rep. Becky Cash insisted the bill “protects the schools.”
“I hope that as this plays out, people will realize that,” she told The Associated Press.
Democratic Rep. Renee Pack spoke to lawmakers about her daughter, Leah Johnson, whose book “You Should See Me In A Crown” was declared “obscene” by the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.
“Why, Leah, do you write these books?” Pack said she asked her daughter, whose book is about a Black girl who falls for her competition for prom queen.
Pack said her daughter’s response was that “it was horrible and confusing, growing up and not seeing me and who I was represented in literature. So this is my way of letting young people know you are not alone, no matter what anybody tells you.”
The bill was subsequently approved by the Senate 39-10.
Republican Sen. Jim Tomes, the author of the Senate bill that passed the chamber in February, told lawmakers earlier this session that parents had brought him several inappropriate books in their libraries, among them “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, a coming-of-age story about gender and sexuality, which was the most “challenged” book of 2022 for the second year in a row, according to the American Library Association.
Attempted book bans and restrictions on libraries have surged, setting a record in 2022, according to a recent report by the ALA. The vast majority of complaints have come from conservatives, directed at works with LGBTQIA+ or racial themes, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who directs the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“We all know, in this room, there is no pornography in our schools,” Indiana Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce said Thursday. “What it is, is young adult fiction that talks about lesbians and gays and people that are different than some of us, and it’s giving us a realistic portrayal of the challenges and the burdens and the struggles that those minorities face.”
Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers.