West Virginia Considering Bill Allowing Prosecution Of Libraries For Obscene Books
Shelves full of books on C-level, a quiet floor for studying, in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, 2014. Courtesy Eric Chen. (Photo by JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images).
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

Legislators in West Virginia are considering a bill that would permit libraries to be prosecuted for carrying books deemed obscene.

House bill 4654, which the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider Monday afternoon, was instead put before a public hearing on Wednesday. It would remove the exclusions that had previously applied to schools, public libraries, and museums as to whether they could be prosecuted for displaying obscene matter to a minor even when the child was accompanied by a parent/guardian.

“State Code defines obscene matter as anything an average person believes depicts or describes sexually explicit conduct, nudity, sex or certain bodily functions; or anything a reasonable person would find lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported. “According to State Code 61-8A-2, any adult who knowingly and intentionally displays obscene matter to a minor could be charged with a felony, fined up to $25,000 and face up to five years in prison if convicted.”

On Wednesday, supporters of the bill read excerpts from books they considered obscene, including “Let’s Talk About It” and “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The sponsor of the bill, Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, argued, “Quit creating the safe haven that allows our children to be presented material that would be unlawful felonious conduct outside of the walls of that library or school.” He said he wanted to move the bill through the House rapidly so it could be considered by the Senate.

Carol Miley, a retired Kanawha County librarian, added, “I urge you to pass this bill. This is not about banning books. It’s about protecting our minor students from being abused. I call it mind rape or word pornography.”

“We have a responsibility to protect our children; a God-given responsibility,” Minister Daniel Curry of the Camden Avenue Church of Christ in Parkersburg stated. “I would ask what is the need for obscene matter in schools and libraries?”

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