Governor Eric Holcomb has recently signed into law a bill that has sparked significant debate. The bill grants parents and community members the authority to request the banning of books from school libraries if they consider them “obscene” or “harmful to minors.
While existing state law already prohibits children from accessing such materials, Indiana House Bill 1447 removes the defense previously available to schools, which allowed them to share these materials with minors for “educational purposes.” The bill, signed on May 4, also mandates that public and charter schools publish a list of library books on their websites and establish a procedure for individuals within the district to submit requests for material removal. School boards are required to review these requests during public meetings and establish an appeal process if they disagree with the complaints.
Under Indiana Code, materials deemed “harmful to minors” include content featuring nudity, sexual themes, or sado-masochistic abuse. They also encompass material that appeals to minors’ prurient interest in sex, goes against community standards of suitability for minors, and lacks significant literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for children.
The initial proposal targeting school libraries, Senate Bill 12, failed to progress in the House earlier during this session. Later, lawmakers attempted to incorporate similar language into another bill, Senate Bill 380, which addresses high school graduation rates. However, the House Education Committee did not vote on the amendment to SB 380, and a watered-down version of the bill was eventually signed by Governor Holcomb on May 4.
The provision to ban “harmful” books from school libraries resurfaced unexpectedly through a last-minute change to HB 1447 in a conference committee, drawing criticism for its closed-door nature. On April 27, shortly before the end of the 2023 legislative session, both the House and Senate voted to approve the library provision that had been added to HB 1447. The bill initially focused on third-party surveys administered to students.
Advocates argue that the law will enhance transparency between schools, libraries, and community members while safeguarding children from inappropriate materials. However, some individuals voice concerns regarding censorship, asserting that a book should not be banned merely because one parent objects to its content.
According to the American Library Association, 2022 witnessed a surge in attempted book bans, with many of the targeted books centered around or authored by individuals from marginalized communities, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
Katie Blair, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana advocacy and public policy director, remarked, “As we have seen across the country, when books are censored, it is mostly books by and about LGBTQ people, people of color, and other marginalized groups that are the first to be banned. Students have a right to learn about all types of people and histories. This bill will have a chilling effect on the availability of books for students to read and explore.