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“There Needs To Be Some Book Burning:” Montana Senate Debates Obscenity Bill

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Montana’s House Bill 234 proposes changing the Montana Code Annotated to allow public school employees, public library employees, and museum employees to be charged up to $500 and six month’s of jail time if convicted of providing obscene material to children, as defined by Montana’s obscenity law. Where the law stands now, these employees can’t be charged as long as they are acting in line with board policies.

The bill has passed the House and is currently being debated in the Senate. A proponent of the bill said, “It looks like there needs to be some book burning.

Opponents of the bill argue it’s overly broad and could lead to museums having to censor or remove images of Michelangelo’s David or photos of naked Holocaust victims.

Matt Lautzenheiser, executive director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, said,

“Should we not include evidence of this vile act just because it offends someone uncomfortable with the naked form? History must be told in its entirety and must include elements that some may find objectionable. It cannot be sanitized and made pretty because that isn’t the truth. It can be ugly, but in this ugliness, there are lessons to be learned for the betterment of society.”

Jack Longbine, a Baptist minister and trustee for the Livingston-Park County Public Library board said that descriptions of rape and violence in the Bible could lead it to be challenged under these new laws, saying,

“If they say, ‘Hey, you and people like you are trying to censor everything. If you won’t read things we want, why should we read the Bible?’ It creates a real problem for me, and they have a legitimate point.”

Mitch Grady, the director of the Livingston-Park County Public Library, argued that this would lead to dramatically increased liability insurance and legal costs if librarians are faced with lawsuits for carrying books like Gender Queer.

Representative Ed Stafman asked if Montana really wants to add another burden onto teachers when the state is already dealing with a teacher shortage. He also explained that when he defended cases like this as an attorney, even when cleared of charges, the people who faced these accusations had their reputations damaged as well as having to deal with legal costs.

Six children in public schools also spoke in opposition of this bill. They expressed concern especially about suppression of LGBTQ+ books and materials.

The bill is still currently being debated.

To take action against this bill, sign Every Library’s petition: Don’t Arrest School Librarians in Montana.

You can read more about this story at The Daily Montanan.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.