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North Dakota GOP Bill Would Send Librarians To Jail If They Don't Remove 'Sexually Explicit' Books From Shelves

North Dakota house committee considered a Republican bill that would allow up to 30 days of prison for librarians who refuse to remove 'sexually explicit' material from public libraries.

North Dakota Legislative Assembly hearing on HB 1205
North Dakota Legislative Assembly

A bill introduced in the North Dakota House of Representatives would not only ban books it deems inappropriate from public libraries—it would also allow prosecutors to charge anyone not complying with the law with a Class B misdemeanor.

That would mean the possibility of up to 30 days imprisonment and a $1,500 fine for any librarians who do not comply with the law.

North Dakota's HB 1205 has a section titled "Public libraries prohibited from maintaining or promoting certain books" which defines what the lawmakers who introduced the bill consider "explicit sexual material."

Their definition is probably quite different from what most people would include under their idea of "sexually explicit."

It includes the things one might expect, like sexual activities and human genitals, but also includes completely not obscene topics like sex-based classifications, sexual identity and gender identity.

While the bill as-written only applies to visual representations of the banned subjects, it is unknown whether it would be enforced only on books containing images if it were to become law.

There was a public hearing for HB 1205 held on Tuesday, January 17. The hearing ended without a vote either for or against by the North Dakota House Judiciary Committee.

As of time of writing, the committee had not made a recommendation on the bill.

You can watch the full hearing here.

Many people were horrified by the bill's potential repercussions.

Several people pointed out the major flaws in the proposed legislation.

According to the American Library Association (ALA) public libraries share a common mission to "provide free, equal, and equitable access to information for all people of the community that the library serves."

Unrestricted access to information and anti-censorship are cornerstones of library ethics.

The point of bills like HB 1205 are often more about making the fear of potential repercussions causing people to comply. Just because the law doesn't explicitly ban books that describe the banned subjects—rather than depicting them visually—doesn't mean someone won't use the law as precedent to try to go after a library anyway.

If HB 1205 becomes law, public librarians will have to weigh their professional ethics against the possibility of imprisonment.