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ALGOP pushing for bill to allow jailing of librarians

The Alabama Republican Party voted Saturday to encourage the Legislature to repeal protections for librarians.

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There has been a longstanding exemption in Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act for libraries and their agents pursuing “legitimate educational purposes.”

The Alabama Republican Party voted Saturday to encourage the Legislature to repeal that code section, which would allow for librarians to face criminal charges for a purported violation of the code.

APR reached out to ALGOP Chairman John Wahl for comment, but did not receive a response. APR has not been able to review the resolution, but a news release from ALGOP confirmed voters passed the resolution.

The criminal penalties apply to multiple sections of the Act, including distribution of “obscenity,” but also distribution of “material harmful to minors.”

On the Jeff Poor Show in October, Wahl promoted repealing the exemption, claiming librarians were “going to do obscene material.”

“I think we definitely could see the legislature consider a bill that would take that exemption away from libraries,” Wahl said on the Jeff Poor Show Tuesday. “They’re abusing their status here in putting explicit sexual material in front of children in children’s sections. That’s a problem, and I think the legislature is well within its bounds to say, ‘Look, if you’re going to do obscene material, you might not should have that exemption in the law for the obscenity provisions where the law does protect children in other areas of media.’”

While Wahl paints “putting explicit sexual material in front of children” as obscenity, the term actually has a distinct definition under the code.

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In the code, obscene means:

a. The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; and

b. The material depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct, actual or simulated, normal or perverted; and

c. A reasonable person would find that the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

The definition of material harmful to minors is slightly different, but it still requires the material to at the very least be pornographic in nature. 

At least, for now.

APR reported in September 2023 about Clean Up Alabama’s legislative plan to repeal the exemption for librarians, but that is just one part of their three-prong plan.

They also plan to tweak last year’s “Drag Ban” bill (HB401) to include LGBTQ content as “sexual conduct.”

In August meeting minutes of the group obtained by APR, the group lists one of its legislative goals thusly: “Considering HB401 that never made it out of committee and assure the language in it matches the harmful materials we have found in the libraries and that it includes public libraries.”

Clean Up Alabama has continued to conflate sexual orientation and gender identity with sexual content and just last week was involved in rewriting policies at the Prattville library to prohibit the purchase of children’s and young adult books that contain LGBTQ content.

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As written, APR has not been made aware of any instances in which any library in this state would be in violation of Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act. But if the definition of “harmful to minors” is successfully changed, librarians could soon face up to $10,000 in fines and a year in county jail for shelving an LGBTQ book on a children’s or young adult shelf. 

The ALGOP resolution aligns with Wahl’s earlier comments, but goes against more recent comments where he suggested that the Alabama Public Library Service, on which Wahl serves as a board member, could resolve the issue and legislation would not be necessary.

“Best case scenario, I would actually like to see this handled by the APLS Board,” Wahl said on the Yafee radio show earlier this month. “I feel like that is the proper authority and the proper channels. And if we did our job right and set up the proper protocols, there would be no need for the state Legislature to get involved.”

Read Freely Alabama said the exemption is necessary to protect libraries from being forced to remove books under threats of criminal charges.

“These protections are vital to ensure the freedom of all Alabamians to access information, and removing these protections puts dedicated library staff at risk of criminal prosecution, including potential jail time, for providing legitimate sources of information for sex education purposes and LGBTQ-affirming content for Alabama families,” Read Freely said in a statement Monday.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks blocked a provision with identical language in Arkansas, saying it would “permit, if not encourage, library committees and local governmental bodies to make censorship decisions based on content or viewpoint, which would violate the First Amendment.” 

“Read Freely fails to see how repeating Arkansas unconstitutional mistakes at the expense of Alabama taxpayers helps protect Alabama’s children,” the group said. “This trend toward authoritarian government overreach regarding citizens’ rights to choose what is appropriate reading material for their families should alarm all Alabamians. The intention behind this resolution is clear, and should not be tolerated. Read Freely Alabama calls on the ALGOP to rescind this un-American resolution, and instead uphold their proclaimed values of individual freedom and small government.”

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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