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Opinion | Lawmakers push for librarian arrests in far-right bid to “protect children”

Once upon a time, the GOP—embodying the spirits of icons like Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—stood as bastions against big government and judicial overreach.

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In an unsettling display of legislative obeisance to the extremist fringes, the Alabama House of Representatives has regrettably surrendered to the whims of the far-right. Once upon a time, the GOP—embodying the spirits of icons like Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan—stood as bastions against big government and judicial overreach. Those days are decidedly over, trampled underfoot by a zealous mob wielding not just pitchforks but a distorted vision of America colored by radical ideologies.

Welcome to 21st-century Alabama, where librarians are the new outlaws, and the ghosts of McCarthyism are alive and well.

This year, the far-right has championed a cause that would make even George Orwell pause—the potential criminalization of librarians. Under the deceptive guise of shielding innocents, Alabama’s HB385, sponsored by Rep. Arnold Mooney, poses a sinister threat to freedom of expression and basic civil liberties. It’s a disconcerting echo of historical book bans and censures, skirting dangerously close to the dystopian realms of “Fahrenheit 451.”

Rep. Mooney, with disarming sincerity, claims this bill—a “people’s bill”—aims to protect children. But let’s be unequivocally clear: this isn’t about protection; it’s about control. It’s about dictating a singular, sanitized narrative while quashing any dissenting or diverse voices. It’s not children this legislation shields; it’s an ideology—a Mayberry-esque delusion that sees any deviation as diabolical.

The bill’s provisions are chilling: criminal charges for librarians over accusations of exposing minors to “obscene” materials—loosely defined to include anything from the clothes a person wears to the books on a shelf. The proposed penalties range from hefty fines to jail time, with subsequent offenses escalating in severity. This isn’t merely an attack on libraries; it’s an assault on education, on critical thinking, and on the foundational rights of all citizens.

The justifications provided by proponents like Rep. David Faulkner, who speaks of tightening and strengthening the bill, only underscore the true intent—making it easier for charges to stick, easing the path to prosecute librarians over nebulous charges of “inappropriate” content. Democrats like Rep. Chris England and Rep. Neil Rafferty rightly criticize the bill for its potential to enable harassment and its blatant disregard for due process and free speech.

The opposition voices, such as Read Freely Alabama and the Alabama Library Association, highlight the bill’s dangerous implications—not just for librarians but for the very nature of public discourse and freedom. When books can be banned and librarians jailed, we edge closer to a society where knowledge is not just curated but curtailed, where information is not just managed but mangled.

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It is a profound irony that those who claim to champion American values are the very ones undermining them. They fear not just the ‘other’ but the very tools—books, discussions, debates—that have built the bulwark of democracy and understanding. This bill is not a protection; it’s a perversion. It’s not about safeguarding the innocent; it’s about silencing the inconvenient. As this bill moves to the Senate, we must hope for a resurgence of reason over fanaticism, for the future of Alabama—and indeed, America—hangs in the balance.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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