War on words: Smith criticizes move to incorporate ‘harmful materials’ language into HB 1447
During a conference committee meeting, previously dead language regarding “harmful and obscene” materials in school libraries and classrooms was added into House Bill 1447. This language, previously found in Senate Bill 12, would require Indiana schools to adopt procedures to remove books and materials deemed to be “obscene and harmful to minors.”
This legislation does not provide a definition of “obscene and harmful,” leaving it up to individual school corporations to determine what materials it may apply to. Under this bill, an individual parent could issue a complaint about a book and have it removed from the library. State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary), ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, offered the following statement today regarding the adoption of language into the bill:
“While I don’t believe in or condone obscenity, I’ve been a tireless advocate against censorship throughout my tenure as a lawmaker and an educator. Reading books about different ways of life or different cultures can open children up to a broader worldview. Over the years, I’ve never been shocked by the book burners in our society, but I’m disgusted that the Indiana General Assembly has moved to give legitimacy to those who are threatened by the wealth of knowledge that books can provide. Professional librarians and teachers are trained in industry standards as to what is appropriate for each age group of children – and I trust them with that charge.
“I take issue with the notion that one parent’s sensibilities should set the rules for an entire group of children. While I have no issue with an individual parent deciding what materials their child can read, they should not be allowed to dictate what other children can access. With the inclusion of this language, this bill does just that. Further, without a set definition of what constitutes as ‘obscene and harmful,’ I’m concerned that literature regarding African American history, women’s history and books featuring LGBT characters will be disproportionally targeted.
“As a long-time educator, I know that children and teenagers are capable of having complex and thoughtful conversations about the world around them. While we should always prioritize safety and age-appropriateness, censoring books and materials in schools is not an effective way to stop these conversations. Hiding certain topics from kids will only make them want to access them more, I suspect. Would we rather our children have their questions answered by their trained teacher or by the internet? We in the legislature are using valuable time to target books in libraries while children have access to far more obscene content on their phones and televisions at any time of day. Banning books won’t stop our children from being curious about the world, but it does remove safeguards against exposing our students to misinformation and information that isn’t age-appropriate.”