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Idaho librarians could face jail time for lending 'harmful' books

Boise Library
Scott Graf
Boise State Public Radio

House lawmakers could soon consider whether prosecutors could criminally charge librarians for allowing minors to check out sexually explicit materials.

Giving explicit material to kids has been a crime in Idaho since at least 1972, but public libraries, including those at colleges and universities, are exempted from that law.

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) wants to cut that exemption, meaning librarians could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine any time they lend explicit materials to someone under 18.

“The increasingly frequent exposure of our children to obscene and pornographic materials in places that I as a parent assume are safe and free from these kinds of harmful materials is downright alarming,” DeMordaunt said.

Kara Claridge, a mother from Coeur d’Alene, agrees. Last summer, Claridge said her daughter found a library book about a same-sex relationship between a prince and a knight.

“It escalates quickly to ‘Auntie Uncle: [Drag Queen Hero],’ middle-grade queer [books] and ‘Lawn Boy,’” she said during a House committee hearing Thursday.

Critics have blasted “Lawn Boy,” a semi-autobiographical book by Jonathan Evison, over claims it contains scenes of pedophilia.

As the book was pulled fromthen subsequently returned to – shelves of Fairfax County Public Schools last year, Evison told the Washington Post the scene at issue is an adult man recounting a sexual encounter with a classmate while he was a fourth-grader.

“My daughter’s innocence was violated, but what happens when kids start acting on these graphic behaviors put forth in these books,” Claridge asked.

Another parent said she had filed a formal complaint against the West Ada School District over the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

“The school does not need to teach our children how to do oral sex,” she said. “That’s my job.”

But Erin Kennedy, a librarian in Boise, said excerpts from books could be taken out of context. Kennedy used a Bible quote from the Book of Ezekiel to make her point.

“There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like those of horses, so you longed for the lewdness of your youth when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled,” she read.

Opponents said the law is vague and open to interpretation. The statute outlaws anyone from making available “any other material harmful to minors” on top of pornography, nude art or books that include descriptions of sexual excitement.

The push and pull over which books should be available to children has a deep history in the United States. The American Library Association’s list of books that have been banned or burned over the years include classics like “Of Mice and Men,” “1984,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Most recently, a Tennessee school district banned the graphic novel “Maus,” which depicts the Holocaust, over its use of eight curse words and a depiction of a nude woman.

Lawmakers on the committee voted to recommend its approval Thursday on a party line vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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