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Montana librarians concerned new obscenity bill criminalizes profession

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Posted at 9:12 AM, Feb 15, 2023

BUTTE - A bill being considered in the Montana State Legislature could criminally charge school librarians and school board members if minors are exposed to books the state considers to be obscene.

“I don’t think it’s necessary at all. I don’t think they’re going to change anything, except for the worse,” said Butte Public Library Librarian Shari Curtis.

House Bill 234, which recently moved through the Montana House of Representatives, revises state law about the dissemination of obscene material to include school employees and board members, who were once exempted.

If adopted, public school librarians could face charges if children see books or materials deemed obscene.

“Some of these books that I just mention to you, if you and I were out on the street showing these kids this stuff I’d guarantee we’d be thrown in jail,” said Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay.

Some who oppose this proposal believe it’s being done to keep books like Gender Queer and others with gay and gender identity themes out of the hands of teens.

“It’s just a thinly veiled attempt to label LGBTQ materials as obscene and to marginalize them,” said Curtis.

Rep. Phalen said he while he opposes those types of books, that’s not the intent of the proposal.

“I had no idea those books even existed until I was presented the books in Judiciary here two or three weeks ago, it’s been a while, and, yeah, do I want them off? I sure do,” said Phalen.

Curtis said the law is unnecessary because parents can formally request books removed from school and public libraries and the state should not get involved in a local issue.

“By taking away this protection that by putting a book on the shelf, that I could be arrested and criminally charged, that puts me in the position of having to parent your child and as a parent myself, I really don’t want that,” Curtis said.

The bill was recently revised to exclude public librarians and museums from the law, but the Montana Library Association still opposes the bill.