Alabama Approves Bill That Permits Prosecution of Librarians

A new law in Alabama could end up prosecuting librarians if they provide minors with what is termed to be “harmful materials.

The law passed through the state House of Representatives this week by a vote of 72-28 and will now head over to Alabama’s state Senate. If it is passed by the Senate, and signed into law by the governor, it would remove exemptions that exist for public libraries as part of Alabama’s obscenity law.

It is also part of a larger effort that’s being taken in certain states throughout the country to ban certain books from public institutions such as schools and libraries.

If passed, the bill would also expand the state’s definition of what is sexual conduct that is banned at all public K-12 schools and public libraries. That definition would now include any “sexual or gender oriented conduct” that could expose minors to someone who’s dressed in “sexually revealing, exaggerated, or provocative clothing or costumes, or are stripping or engaged in lewd or lascivious dancing, presentations or activities.”

A librarian who is found to have violated the law could face a criminal misdemeanor charge.

People who might believe that a public library or public school is in violation of the law would also have the ability to provide written notice of such to the leaders of the organization and also the county district attorney.

According to a report published by The Associated Press, the bill’s opponents believe that people who disagree with the choices that a librarian makes for content could threaten them with criminal charges, even if there is no merit to do so.

State Representative Chris England, who is a Democrat, argued during debate on the bill that it “will be manipulated and used to arrest librarians that you don’t like, and not because they did anything criminal.”

Another Democrat from the state, Representative Neil Rafferty said he believes the bill will be abused quite easily and also violates the First Amendment.

Yet, state Representative David Faulkner, a Republican, fired back that “it’s only a misdemeanor” that librarians could be charged with, and that they’d also only actually be punished if they took no action about the content once they were made aware of it.

If the state Senate passes the bill and Republican Governor Kay Ivey signs it, the new law would officially go into effect on October 1.

There are many efforts that are happening throughout the country to restrict materials such as books that depict situations that some people are uncomfortable with, including discussion of the LGBTQ+ community.

Yet, while debate about the bill was ongoing, its sponsor, state Representative Arnold Mooney, said this was more about protecting children. As he said:

“It is not a Democrat bill. It’s not a Republican bill. It’s a people bill to try to protect children.”

Alabama is just one of a number of states that have taken efforts in recent years to restrict the materials that are available in public places.