Our viewpoint: Book-banning bill has unintended consequences

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Aim Media Indiana

A book-banning bill that passed the Indiana General Assembly had the support of local lawmakers even as critics warned of alarming consequences.

Under the banner of protecting Hoosier schoolchildren from “harmful material,” Indiana’s lawmakers fashioned Pandora’s box. Legislation passed in the just-concluded session makes every item in every school library subject to potential challenge for virtually any reason.

The astonishingly poorly crafted House Enrolled Act 1447 signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb last week allows anyone in the community to file a complaint if they think something in a school library is “harmful” to a minor or “obscene.” HEA1447 then requires the school board to “review the request at the next public meeting.”

You don’t have to be Magellan to know where this is heading.

Books dealing with LGBTQ themes or those that provide an unfiltered view of race relations or other aspects of this country’s sometimes troubled history already have been canceled by self-serving politicians around the country. People who have convinced themselves that they know best feel newly empowered to restrict what everyone’s kids can read.

A story by The Republic’s Andy East last week shared the views of local parents, school officials and many others about this bill, which is part of a nationwide effort. Raymond Haberski, professor of history and director of American studies at IUPUI, who is part of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Studies, said this last October:

“Banning these books or having them removed from libraries is simply another way to say that these groups oppose the way people are, their identities. Instead of coming out and being bigoted to people’s faces, they’re going after the books in libraries and saying that those books exist or if my children come across them, somehow, they’re going to be hurt by them, which basically means that they’re saying that children would be hurt by simply living in the same community with people who are not necessarily like them. To me, that is incredibly disturbing.”

As an institution that stands for the First Amendment, we have tirelessly advocated against this kind of dangerous legislation. We are not lawyers, but we can see the First Amendment violations in HEA1447. We won’t be surprised to see a court nullify it.

Having said that, the legislation does have a silver lining. Recall we mentioned that HEA1447 requires the school board to review book-ban requests at the next public meeting?

After this bill takes effect Jan. 1, we intend to track these requests and report who is challenging books in our community, and why, and what your elected school board members are doing about it. We intend to shine light on every effort to ban books under this law.

Would-be book banners never seem to grasp a basic concept: When they try to ban books, it simply spurs greater interest. We’ll give oft-banned (and wildly popular) author Steven King the last word:

“What I tell kids is don’t get mad (about censorship), get even. Run, don’t walk, to the first library you can find, and read what they’re trying to keep out of your eyes. Read what they’re trying to keep out of your brains. Because that’s exactly what you need to know.”