A coalition of left-wing groups is lobbying lawmakers to kill LD 123, a bill that would repeal a provision of Maine law that allows pornographic materials to be given to minors so long as it happens in a school setting.
Maine has had a law banning the provision of obscene materials to minors since the 1970s, but the law includes exemptions for certain educational situations, like museums and public schools.
The exemptions were intended to protect legitimate educational materials, like great works of art that may include nudity.
But in recent years, public school officials and teachers have taken advantage of the obscenity exemption for schools to promote books like Gender Queer, which includes cartoon images of children having sex.
Despite their x-rated content, keeping Gender Queer and other LGBT-themed books in school libraries and classrooms has become something of cause célèbre for liberal school employees.
In some school districts, parents have attempted to have the pornographic books removed from schools. In other districts, such as Hermon, parents have asked school boards to create a system that ensures children can only access age-appropriate materials.
However, school officials have mostly been reluctant to keep even the most controversial books out of kids’ hands. And left-wing activists have rallied in defense of the books, claiming that conservative parents are attempting to “ban books.”
LD 123, the bill from Sen. Jim Libby (R-Cumberland), would strike the exemption for public schools, meaning the prohibition on disseminating obscene materials would apply to school teachers and administrators.
A whole host of left-wing groups have voiced opposition to the bill, including the ACLU of Maine and the Maine Chapter of the National Social Workers Association.
An online petition from the 501(c)4 group EveryLibrary urges voters to email lawmakers in opposition to the bill. EveryLibrary claims that LD 123, if passed, would lead to the arrest and incarceration of teachers who have obscene books in their classrooms.
But Libby said the final bill will do nothing of the sort.
“We are pushing to amend the bill so as to have the authorities issue cease and desist orders to school boards,” said Libby. “That is the objective.”
“I’m not going forward with the bill unless that, or something similar, is issued upon initial offense,” he said.
EveryLibrary claims that LD 123 would lead to teachers getting arrested for having Margaret Atwood and F. Scott Fitzgerald books in their classroom, but Libby’s efforts are more targeted towards explicit pornography. And he says his bill would actually protect school boards and teachers from expensive legal battles by articulating statewide policy governing objectionable material.
“Currently, school boards are left to their own to set policy on objectionable content, objectionable to some parents,” he said.
“Some have used an unclear health standard located in the Maine Learning Results that does not define pornograpic material. These boards then have faced expensive legal bills in the process of defending themselves from Freedom of Access Act requests from parents,” he said. “Some now may face a lawsuit.”
According to current Maine law, the prohibition on disseminating obscene material to minors is enforced by the Attorney General or a district attorney.
If one of those officials believes that a violation of the law is occuring, they can hold a jury trial to determine whether the materials are obscene.
Those who are found guilty of disseminating obscene materials to minors, a Class C crime, face up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.