New Book Censorship Bill Allows Prosecution, Hefty Fines of Librarians

Read on to learn about the new West Virginia bill that could potentially cause unjust prosecution of librarians.

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A male teacher points to content in a textbook while young students look at him and listen intently in a circle. They are in a school library.

The West Virginia House of Delegates sends a new bill to the state Senate that would deny schools, public libraries, and museums exemption from criminal liability if a minor comes across salacious content on their property. House Bill 4654, created per State Code 61-8A-2, charges any adult who consciously exposes a minor to obscene content with a felony, a $25,000 fine, and up to five years in prison.

The Polarizing Views of the Bill

The characteristics of obscene matter are based on what State Code 61-8A-2 believes a reasonable person would find sexually explicit material or non-educational depictions of nudity, sex, or bodily functions. Challenged material must contribute nothing literary, artistic, political, or scientific to the community. Those favoring the bill equate it with parental controls, protecting children from inappropriate content without adult supervision.

Two students read textbooks at a table in their school library. Another student, blurry in the background, sits at another table in conversation with another.

Any book considered perverse in nature will not be banned entirely, and any adult who wishes to engage with it privately will still be able to do so. The bill would only prevent books and materials of that kind from being displayed in a way easily accessible to children on public land.

That being said, opponents of the bill believe the indirect impacts of HB 4654 are just as severe as outright book bans. Based on the criteria for inappropriate content, numerous books could be restricted, including classics. Critical components of the school curriculums, like sex education or polarizing moments in world history, would also be in jeopardy. Further, unjust charges might be brought against librarians who may not be familiar with a book’s content and, therefore, be prosecuted without evidence of hostile intention.

In an 85-12 vote, House Bill 4654 is set to be seen by the West Virginia state Senate. PEN America released information stating that bills like HB 4654 are becoming increasingly common across the United States. Criminal exemptions are continuously revoked and threatened, or legal language is rewritten to encompass a wider variety of books under restriction.

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