AG Landry releases ‘Protecting Innocence’ report on sexually explicit content in public libraries

Offers findings of material, suggestion on how to move forward
La. Attorney General Jeff Landry and several Louisiana lawmakers want to address the issue of whether certain books should be restricted in public libraries.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 8:07 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - On Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, Attorney General Jeff Landry released his office’s “Protecting Innocence” report, detailing their findings of sexually explicit content in Louisiana’s public libraries and suggesting how libraries can address concerns and solutions to the ongoing debate.

“This is not a political issue,” said Landry. “This is about giving parents and officials the tools they requested to protect Louisiana’s children from sexually explicit material that is inappropriate for their age.”

The report comes on the heels of a contentious debate over sexual materials in public libraries statewide.

In many cases, like in Rapides Parish, library boards and patrons requested legal guidance from the AG on how to approach the issues and what could be done about it.

“This is about giving parents and officials the tools they requested to protect Louisiana’s children from sexually explicit material that is inappropriate for their age,” said Landry.

Landry said the report is “a thorough examination on the state of public libraries, the access children currently have to material that is far from age-appropriate, and potential solutions that citizens may take to protect children’s innocence.”

In 54 pages, the report details existing Louisiana law around the public library system, model legislation, suggestions and samples of language amendments to collection development policies and procedures and nine examples of sexually explicit content in the libraries. The examples cited are those the AG deemed sexually explicit.

In many libraries, the debate over sexually explicit or obscene material has centered around whether LGBTQ material would fall into those categories. In Rapides Parish, a large portion of the conversation revolved around disagreements over LGBTQ materials in the children and teens collections.

Three of the nine examples within the report are graphic novels containing LGBTQ themes. Some illustrations are blurred out. The remaining examples include written sex scene excerpts from novels, several of which include LGBTQ characters.

“I think that when you talk to parents, irrespective of their lifestyles, they certainly expect that there is an innocence to being a child,” said Landry. “And that we just don’t want children to be able to walk into a library and stumble across things that are not age-appropriate for them”

Suggested solutions to the debate include changes to the language of library policy to better define sexually explicit materials and the categorization of those materials.

While these solutions are not mandated, that could soon change through legislation in the upcoming legislative session, including updates to the library card system.

“Right now, if you go into a library and you get a library card, you basically have access, unfettered access to all materials in the library,” said Sen. Heather Cloud (R-District 28). “So, it’s really an antiquated model, an antiqued policy that needs modernizing.”

Cloud joined Landry at the announcement to discuss legislation she has pre-filed ahead of the 2023 Regular Legislative Session.

“I think it’s very palatable,” said Cloud. “It’s not a far-right approach, and it’s not a far-left approach. It’s being respectful of the library boards and of communities.”

SB7 provides definitions of what is considered sexually explicit. It also gives a deadline of Jan. 1, 2024, for public libraries to develop policies that meet certain requirements outlined in the law.

An update to the library card system is one of those requirements. For example, parents would be able to select a library card that restricts whether a minor can check out sexually explicit content.

A description of what those changes could look like is contained in the AG’s report, with levels to what restricted access could look like.

Solutions like Cloud’s and those contained in the AG’s report were met with criticism from some groups, like the ACLU.

“Today, Attorney General Jeff Landry and legislators proposed new restrictions on circulation and access to public library collections. Although parents have an important responsibility to judge what material is appropriate for their own children, overbroad laws restricting free speech and the free exchange of ideas run contrary to the First Amendment.

“Today’s proposals would empower state and local officials to pick and choose what material is ‘sexually explicit’ and, therefore, restricted or removed from circulation entirely. In any government censorship regime, there are winners and losers. And it is not lost on anyone that the vast majority of titles and authors criticized by the Attorney General today are by and about people of color, women and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Politicians do not have the right to determine what we read or which ideas we can access. Material that some find offensive may be enlightening and enriching to others. In the United States, it is never the proper role of the government to choose what speech, art or ideas are appropriate for the community. Restrictions on free speech and artistic expression are a dire threat to democracy and to future generations of Louisianans.”

Alanah Odoms, Executive Director of ACLU of Louisiana

You can read the full “Protecting Innocence” report here.

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