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Critics say Indiana library bill could violate First Amendment

SB17 passed Senate committee Wednesday
Posted at 10:16 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 17:41:10-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A battle over the books at Indiana schools and public libraries is playing out at the state Capitol.

It is one of several bills being debated in Indiana and across the country that critics say could violate the First Amendment. Others argue there are just some things in the library they do not want kids to see.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education and Career Development Committee passed Senate Bill 17 by a 9-4 vote. It now heads to the full Senate.

The bill would open the door to prosecution of public libraries and K-12 schools over materials or books considered harmful to minors, including those which contain violence, pornography or obscenities.

It is an argument heard at school board meetings across the state over the last few years: what books can or cannot be allowed in the classroom.

Last week, the Education Committee heard the better part of three hours of testimony from parents, teachers and librarians.

Purple for Parents Indiana is a grassroots education group for parents advocating for the passage of the bill. President Rhonda Miller said she brought the issue to the bill’s author, Republican Senator James Tomes, several years ago.

“That's our concern is if we don't protect our children now, we have generations of pornography abusers and our children should never be subjected to that place is supposed to be protected for them to go to so parents are adjusting their schools to not distribute material and yet we are,” Miller said.

Last year, a similar bill — Senate Bill 288 — died, but Miller said her group plans on fighting this until the end.

On the other side are groups like the Indiana Library Federation. Librarians Kelly Ehinger and Vanessa Martin sit on the group’s advocacy board. Ehinger said the bill creates fear.

“Our collections are for the entire community. We all have diverse communities. We all have people from all different legal backgrounds, social backgrounds, age, race, religion, and they all have different needs. So we see these kinds of bills as a way of sort of accurate censorship into the collections and it really inhibits our ability of meeting the needs of our community,” Ehinger said.

Martin also considers the bill an overreach, pointing to processes already in place for parents to object to material or books on the shelves.

“The big thing is that we want to get out that we're willing to talk about these materials that people are objecting to, in hopes that they will see that we're trying to serve everyone,” Martin said.

When it comes to this bill, both groups say they will continue to advocate their respective stances until the end.