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Opinion | HB4’s tyranny: A roadmap to autocratic control

Libraries are meant to be bastions of free access to information, but this bill will lead to censorship and suppression of diverse viewpoints.

Title page inside a copy of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood with a note saying "banned." The book has landed on many school and library banned book lists.
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In an audacious display of overreach and disregard for the principles that underpin our democracy, state Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, and 49 House Republican co-sponsors have pre-filed a bill, HB4, that threatens to undermine the very essence of the First Amendment. This legislation, targeting librarians, is not just a legislative assault on public libraries but a symptom of a cancer eating away at the foundation of freedom of speech, thought, and equality.

HB4’s intent could have been ripped from the pages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The legislation seeks to hold librarians criminally liable for book collections that are arbitrarily deemed harmful to minors, including books that include “gender-oriented conduct” under its new definition of “sexual conduct.” The bill’s definitions of “harmful to minors” and “sexual conduct” are vague and overbroad, making it nearly impossible for librarians to know what materials might be considered illegal. This uncertainty could lead to excessive caution and the removal of a wide range of materials, stifling intellectual freedom.

These measures would surely lead to unintended consequences, such as the removal of classic literature, health education books, and other important materials that may include content deemed “objectionable” under the bill’s broad definitions. This can harm educational outcomes and limit the resources available to students and the public.

Republican House members are on record championing parental rights. Isn’t it the right and responsibility of parents to monitor and determine what material is best for their children’s learning and reading enjoyment, and not the state? When did Republicans, once the party of freedom, determine it was the fountain of wisdom to determine all values and rights to be enjoyed by citizens?

Decisions about what materials are appropriate for children are best made by parents and guardians, not the state. This bill undermines parental rights by imposing a one-size-fits-all standard that may not align with the values and beliefs of all families. This is not freedom but the work of autocrats wielding the power of the state to interfere in the conduct of parents and their children.

Libraries are meant to be bastions of free access to information, but this bill will lead to censorship and suppression of diverse viewpoints—a prospect that leads to ignorance and bigotry. The bill places an administrative and financial burden on libraries to monitor, evaluate, and potentially remove large amounts of material. This diverts resources away from other important library services and can disrupt the functioning of libraries.

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Holding librarians liable for collections is the first step toward censoring other public institutions, such as schools and museums, leading to broader censorship and control over educational and cultural content available to anyone. This is a move to control thought, conduct, and freedom of all individuals and groups who do not fit neatly into some vague understanding of the new Republican religion. This is not youth fan fiction but an overarching scheme to reshape the nation by controlling the institutions of learning, education, and government. It is a diabolical movement toward a dystopian future. In plain English, HB4 is tyranny and a roadmap to autocratic control. Good people must resist by becoming engaged in civic debate to stand for the principles of the nation’s bedrock values of freedom, liberty, and justice for all—not simply for the ruling class of lawmakers and their handmaidens.

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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