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Northern Mich. lawmaker's bill would close a library indefinitely for offering explicit books

Morgan Springer

A Michigan House bill was introduced Wednesday, Feb. 22 that would close a library indefinitely if they were found to be carrying explicit books that children or teens could access.

The first part of the bill, HB 4136 from State Rep. Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix Co.), would require libraries to restrict obscene or sexually explicit materials that are "harmful to minors."

“That gets us to the part of this bill that’s completely out of cuckooland," said Jonathan Weinberg, law professor at Wayne State Unviersity.

The bill would allow anyone to report a book as not suitable for minors because of obscene or sexually explicit material, he said. If a judge agrees, the library would be closed to the public until the court believes the issue is fixed.

“The books on the shelves that’s going to put them in the most danger are books related to gay and lesbian issues, trans issues, anything along those lines," Weinberg said. "What this bill does is essentially send a message to those libraries that says ‘if you know what’s good for you, you’re gonna get rid of all of your books for a YA audience that relate to gay or lesbian issues.”

The bill is meant to induce a chilling effect on libraries, he said.

“A library that is remotely risk-averse is going to figure that it needs to simply purge its shelves—or at least restrict for minor’s access—not any book that’s actually harmful to minors, but any book that somebody might think is harmful to minors," he said.

If the bill passes, Weinberg said it would most likely be challenged in court as a violation of First Amendment rights.

Friske did not respond to WCMU's request for comment.

Ben Jodway is an intern, serving as a reporter for WCMU Public Media and the Pioneer in Big Rapids. He has covered Indigenous communities and political extremism in Michigan.