‘We Do Not Want to Expose Them to That’

March 20th, 2023

Proposed Bills Could Take Books off Library Shelves

By Laura Simmons

laurasimmons2025@u.northwestern.edu

The passing of ND House Bill 1205 and ND Senate Bill 2360, which would prevent sexually explicit books from being in public libraries, has prompted national discourse over what some are considering “book bans.”

The North Dakota House and Senate each passed a bill to amend North Dakota Century Code 12.1-27.1, which focuses on obscenity control.

HB 1205 says a public library may not have books that contain explicit sexual material, which is defined as images that portray masturbation, sex, deviant sex, direct physical stimulation of genitals, sadomasochistic abuse or postpubertal human genitals.

SB 2360 goes a step further to include written depictions of explicit sexual material. These bills were created in response to what the bills’ sponsors called obscene and pornographic books in their local libraries.

However, some worry the bills are going too far.

“Once we start getting into these types of bills where we're censoring any form of free speech, even if it is intended for reasonable purposes, they open the door to a lot of devious factors: a lot of people that might use it to their advantage to continue an agenda that will restrict society more and more until we no longer have diversity of thought,” Senator Ryan Braunberger (Democrat) said.

Braunberger voted against SB 2360 for multiple reasons. One, he said the language was too broad and up for interpretation. For example, he said the bill could restrict the Bible from being in libraries, citing the passage about Sodom and Gomorrah.

Two, currently, SB 2360 doesn’t specify a location within libraries that this law would affect, according to Braunberger. Therefore, even books in the adult section could be removed.

Three, Braunberger said he thinks it’s important to have sex education books available for adolescents.

Senator Bob Paulson (Republican) co-sponsored SB 2360 after discovering what he called obscene books in his local school library.

“I believe this bill will address the problems I discovered, and I’m happy with it in its current state,” Paulson wrote in an email to the High Plains Reader.

Paulson said he thinks past U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as Island Trees School District v. Pico, can help define terms that don’t have concrete legal definitions, such as who a “reasonable person” is.

Island Trees School District v. Pico ruled that students have First Amendment rights and therefore removing books based on content is unconstitutional censorship. However, a book can be removed if it has strong sexual themes. The courts said community standards may be taken into account when deciding whether or not books are obscene or pornographic.

“So, here is an example of a term ‘community standards’ that may not be defined in law, but I would say is as commonly understood as terms such as ‘average’ or ‘reasonable people,’” Paulson…

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