Bill to criminalize librarians would intellectually impoverish Idaho students

Finally, the Legislature has the courage to stand up to a class of criminals who have gotten away with it for far too long.


A bill introduced by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, would subject a library worker to up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if they distribute to a minor material that’s judged to be obscene. The bill — which by an absolutely hilarious stroke of luck, is numbered HB 666 – passed through the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

DeMordaunt introduced Stephanie Gifford, a Bonneville County woman who described herself as a “curriculum and literary analyst for Family Watch International.” Incidentally, Family Watch is a hate group, which teaches the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness and has supported severe criminal penalties for homosexuality both in the U.S. and abroad.

The examples of “obscene” literature found in libraries raised by parents in support of the bill were not issues of Playboy. They were books, generally books with LGBTQ characters. These include Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” and Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: a Memoir,” both of which have been the target of censorship campaigns in other states.

But where other states seek to remove these books from school libraries, DeMordaunt’s bill would subject those who lend them to criminal penalties. The bill uses legal vagueness as a weapon. The object isn’t simply to ban certain books but to make library workers afraid that any book they loan out could result in charges.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, stated this rather explicitly.

“There should be some concern, and that librarian should recognize that there is danger there because of the criminal potential,” he said.

That is, the point is to have a chilling effect. The point is for librarians always to be worried about whether they might be fined or go to jail for allowing a book to be checked out. And the risk that they will face burdensome court proceedings is enough to censor books, like “Lawn Boy,” that clearly do not meet the legal definition of obscenity.

There is no list of banned books, so librarians would be constantly in a place of legal uncertainty. The incentive is: If ever there is any doubt, remove a book from circulation.

  • All librarians would be prudent to refuse to lend copies of the Bible to children. As one librarian pointed out, it contains many rather sexually explicit passages.

  • Plato is certainly unsafe for teens — the Symposium in particular.

  • Shakespeare is out — it’s hard to find a single play without a passage someone might consider pornographic.

  • Best to remove frequent fliers on the most-challenged book lists, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men.”

Perhaps most significantly, any book that a librarian has not thoroughly examined themselves is a big risk. The cover of “Lawn Boy,” for example, features only grass and a lawnmower. There’s no warning for a librarian unfamiliar with it that some parents think they should be charged with a crime if they loan this book to a minor, or even that the novel contains anything remotely controversial.

So if they don’t know the book cover to cover, they’re rolling the dice on a criminal charge if they loan it out.

But that’s the idea. If there has been a consistent theme in recent legislative debates about Idaho’s school curricula — from science standards to critical race theory — this has been it: No one under 18 can be trusted to think through difficult subjects.

It is better, many Republican lawmakers seem to think, for them to be intellectually impoverished.