Republican lawmakers are pushing new bills that could further regulate which books should be allowed — or disallowed — in Maine’s school libraries.
One would create a rating system and ban books from elementary or middle school libraries if they’re not rated as age-appropriate. Another would issue a cease-and-desist order to schools that disseminate content that’s found to be obscene by the attorney general or a district attorney.
That bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. James Libby of Standish, says it comes in response to recent efforts by parents to ban particular books, including the graphic novel “Gender Queer,” from school libraries. He says his measure would offer a compromise that would only redact particular lines or images.
“We’d just be redacting some parts of some controversial books. And if you read the definition of what’s obscene, we’re drawing a line, but it’s a pretty low line,” he says.
But the measure faced opposition from teachers and librarians, who say it would override local control and the local book vetting process managed by educators and administrators as well as harm marginalized students.
Heather Perkinson, the president of the Maine Association of School Libraries, says schools already have a process for challenging books, and she worries the proposal would have a chilling effect.
“Who gets to decide what is obscene? I fear it would quickly become a politicized metric that would censor ideas and identities, targeting topics that get at the very heart of what the First Amendment enshrines,” she says.
Attorney General Aaron Frey also says that the bill is unnecessary, as his office and district attorneys already have the authority to respond if someone is disseminating obscene material to minors.