In seven states, librarians face years in prison and tens of thousands in fines for providing "harmful" books to children.
According to Washington Post data, six of the seven states passed such restrictions in just the last two months. A dozen other states have considered or are considered similar laws.
Obscenity laws exist in all 50 states, but nearly all adopted provisions that protected schools and libraries on topics such as biology, health, and sex education.
The majority of the new laws target school libraries, but some also implicate staff at public libraries. Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all threaten school or library staff with fines and time in prison for violating the restrictions. Tennessee's measures also target book publishers and vendors who sell to schools.
Indiana and Arkansas law threaten fines of $10,000 and two years in prison for librarians or educators in violation. Oklahoma threatens $20,000 and ten years in prison. In Tennessee, publishers face fines of up to $103,000.
Due to the vague nature of the laws, many educators and librarians are now uncertain of what materials they could be prosecuted over. Many have expressed anxiety from simply doing their jobs.
The majority of targeted material in book bans and other restrictions in recent years include LGBTQ+ identity or themes such as racism. Director of PEN America, Jonathan Friedman, previously told The Advocate Channelthat ongoing legal battles are "about due process and about certain principles that should guide and protect student rights."
"Fundamentally, people should be reading the books, talking about them, understanding the purpose of a library. The library isn’t there to serve any one person’s political or ideological views, it’s meant to be relevant to students, and the best people whose job is to help determine that, are librarians," he said. "Unfortunately, their professional discretion and expertise has been undermined."
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