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West Virginia Republicans pass a bill to prosecute librarians over 'obscene' books

Supporters of the bill have bristled at the claim that the legislation is a book ban. That's exactly what it is.


West Virginia Republicans have passed a bill in the House of Delegates that would effectively open up librarians and educators to criminal prosecution over “obscene” books and materials.

By an 85-12 vote on Friday, lawmakers greenlighted House Bill 4654, aimed at "removing bona fide schools, public libraries, and museums from the list of exemptions from criminal liability relating to distribution and display to minor of obscene matter." Only one Republican joined the 11 Democrats to vote against the bill.

An amendment to exempt teachers from criminal liability had been struck down earlier in the day. Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin, who put forward the amendment, said it was intended to prevent teachers from being prosecuted for following the curriculum, The Times West Virginian reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, which opposed the bill, said that it advanced out of committee to a full House vote amid "concerns about pedophile librarians."

"The bill is designed to create confusion for educators about what kinds of materials can be taught or displayed," the ACLU said in a statement on X.

Supporters of the bill have bristled at the claim that its goal is to ban certain books, saying that it is simply meant to protect children.

“This bill does not ban books or censor speech,” Republican Del. Elliott Pritt told News and Sentinel. “These books can still be bought privately by people if they’re adults. We’re not saying they need to be taken off of the market.”

Yet any reasonable person understands that such legislation would amount to a book ban. HB 4654 would also have a serious impact on educators, who have already faced undue scrutiny as conservatives continue on their warpath against public education, including targeting issues around race and LGBTQ rights. Andrew Schneider, the executive director of Fairness West Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group, criticized the bill, telling AP, “This is a bad bill. It’s clear that some lawmakers want to eliminate any mention of LGBTQ-plus people in our schools museums and libraries, and although this bill won’t accomplish that goal, it could have a chilling effect on free speech.”

The bill is now being debated in committee in the state Senate, where Republicans also hold an overwhelming majority.