The ACLU of North Dakota opposes House Bill 1205, legislation that would make it a crime for libraries to offer “sexually explicit” books or books that show nudity or partial nudity to their patrons.
The bill is a blatant attempt at censorship, pure and simple.
“To be sure, no one is going to agree on the merits of every book on a library’s shelf,” said Cody Schuler, ACLU of North Dakota advocacy manager. “Some books will make us uncomfortable. Some books will make us question what we know. Some books will make us angry. There are some books you will think children shouldn’t read and some books that you hope no one will read. But we are steadfast in our belief that we do not get to decide what others read – and neither should the government.”
Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court set the high constitutional bar that defines obscenity — a narrow, well-defined category of unprotected speech that excludes any work with serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Since then, few if any books have been deemed obscene. And the standards for restraining a bookseller or library’s ability to distribute a book are even more stringent.
“If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. The First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech and the right to access information has created a beautiful marketplace of ideas in our country,” Schuler said. “Each of us gets to choose what books we read and what information we access — but we don’t get to choose for other people. Doing so is un-American and unconstitutional.”
House Bill 1205 also prohibits visual depictions of “gender identity” and “sex-based classifications” in its list of offenses, but doesn’t clarify what that means.
House Bill 1205 will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee today. A similar bill – Senate Bill 2123 – has been filed in the senate, but a committee hearing has not been scheduled yet.
About the ACLU of North Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of North Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes South Dakota and Wyoming. The team in North Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women and LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of North Dakota.