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OPINION: Extremist GOP legislators are at it again, attacking our public libraries

by JIM JONES/Guest Opinion
| March 3, 2023 1:00 AM

The claim that Idaho librarians are dispensing pornography and other harmful materials to kids fell flat last year, but extremist GOP legislators are attacking once again. Nobody has been able to provide evidence that our librarians are handing out smut to kids, but that is beside the point. The issue has been popular amongst culture warriors across the country, so it should be good for some political mileage in Idaho.

Idaho’s public and school libraries are overseen by locally elected boards that are charged with applying local community standards. They have safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate materials from getting into the hands of minors. If people believe the boards are not performing property, they should produce real evidence and petition for change. Failing that, they can exercise their right to make a change at the ballot box.

People in some Idaho communities have taken the fabricated claims of the national culture warriors at face value and launched protests against their local libraries. Some protesters have produced lists of books they want removed from the shelves, but often have not read them or can’t show they’ve been checked out to minors.

Despite failing to show that specific libraries or librarians are dispensing smut to kids, the legislative extremists are back with another bill to address this imaginary problem.

House Bill 139 allows people to sue libraries for permitting their kids to “obtain” material “harmful to minors” and collect $10,000, plus “actual damages” and attorney fees for each instance. Interestingly, the bill would also apply to private school libraries.

So, if your kid goes to the library to “obtain” a naughty book, you could really clean up at 10 thousand a pop. That is, if the kid could find a book with a “depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state" or something similar. The statute book itself, with that kind of naughty wording, might qualify for the $10,000 reward.

I’m guessing the bill is designed, primarily, to intimidate libraries and librarians. One supporter of the bill suggested it was intended to drive up the insurance premiums of libraries, causing them to self-censor.

What might make the legislation less obnoxious would be to make the remedy reciprocal. That is, if a person brought suit against a library and lost, the library would get its attorney fees for defending the suit. That would discourage meritless lawsuits.

The folks unhappy with pornography are attacking the wrong target. Libraries don’t traffic in pornography. That is the job of the internet. Studies show that from three-quarters to 90% of teenagers have seen pornography online. A person can find explicit sex on streaming services any time of day, any day of the year.

There is too little parental responsibility in protecting kids from smut. Why should parents not place controls on what their kids are exposed to online? If they are concerned about what they are checking out in the library, go with them. Meridian City Council member Liz Strader was right on when she said, “adults need to take control, and they need to help [kids] select their books. It is about personal responsibility.”

My daughter and her two kids, a teen and pre-teen, love to go to their Boise branch library to explore together. They bond by getting books, games, movies and videos from friendly, helpful and dedicated librarians. It is a wholesome atmosphere and I’m proud of my daughter for opening up the world to the kids in that little library.

I must say that I respect and admire the valiant librarians around the state who continue to give great service to the public despite the undeserved scorn heaped upon them by folks who have little knowledge of what is going on in these institutions of learning. The librarians at the Meridian Library District deserve particular praise for their dedicated public service. By standing up for the rights of their patrons, young and old, they are heroes to me. Please join me in thanking them for their commitment to enlightening the next generation and telling the extremists in the Legislature to leave our libraries alone.

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. He is a regular contributor to The Hill online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater.com