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Senate panel advances obscenity bill that critics say could send teachers to jail for sex ed classes

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Posted at 12:03 PM, Feb 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-21 19:53:28-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposal that critics say could send librarians and teachers to jail for teaching sex education or letting kids read books by Toni Morrison and George Orwell.

Senate Bill 12 removes the fact that a book in a K-12 classroom or school library has educational value as a defense in a criminal case under state obscenity laws.

"I never thought as a member of the legislature that I would be voting on a measure that would put librarians in jail," said Democratic Sen. Rondey Pol, who represents part of LaPorte and Porter counties. "I think this extra step of removing criminal defenses is completely unnecessary."

Supporters say the bill aims to keep sexually explicit diagrams and other harmful materials away from children. These images don't belong in schools, they say.

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Rhonda Miller, president of Purple for Parents Indiana, holds a book for teens that she says is available at some Indiana libraries and contains diagrams of genitalia and sex acts.

"Parents are sending their children to school thinking they're safe and they're not safe with this material in the in the school," said Rhonda Miller, president of Purple for Parents Indiana.

The proposed law applies only to K-12 schools. Universities and public libraries are not impacted.

Critics say the bill goes too far because teachers or librarians could be prosecuted for teaching topics like sex education and English literature.

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Joel Hand of the American Federation for Teachers Indiana and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education

“Our fear is that that statute, if it goes through, without amendment, could create problems for teachers being able to teach sex education courses,” said Joel Hand of the American Federation for Teachers Indiana. “The book 1984 contains a sex scene in it. A strict reading of the language of the bill might prohibit the use of 1984 as a text for reading for students."

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Indiana Sen. Liz Brown

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Liz Brown said 1984 and other books are not impacted. The changes, she said, give parents more control over what books their children see at school.

"If you listen to testimony, there's a lot of frustration at the school boards and school libraries on how to get these materials out," said Brown, an Allen County Republican.

Providing obscene materials to minors is already a felony in Indiana, Brown said. This proposed law eliminates using an obscene material for an educational purpose as a criminal defense.

The bill still gives teachers and librarians a legal defense for works of literature, art and science.

If parents have a problem with a book that's in a school or public library, they can bring that concern to a librarian. Then, a form is normally filled out and passed on to either the library or school board. That board will then make the determination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 7-4 in favor of Senate Bill 12. The bill now heads to the full Senate for more debate and possible new amendments.

READ MORE: Librarian weighs in on bill that would ban books viewed to be “sexually explicit” by parents

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on Twitter: @vicryc.