North Dakota bills seek to restrict access to obscene books for minors

North Dakota lawmakers are considering two bills that would prohibit public libraries from displaying sexually explicit materials to minors.

HB 1205, introduced by House Majority Leader Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, would make it a misdemeanor to willfully display sexually explicit material “at newsstands or any other business establishment frequented by minors, or where minors are or may be invited as part of the general public.”

Sexually explicit material includes depictions of masturbation, sexual intercourse, sadomasochistic abuse, sexual preferences, activity, identity or gender identity.

The bill’s language reflects the legal definition of obscenity, which refers to material that is prurient – excessively interested in sexual matters – and lacks literary, scientific, political or artistic value.

“At the very least public libraries should put it in a restricted area where (children) need to get permission from their parents to take a book out like this, but they’re offering it to junior high school kids,” Lefor said, calling some of the materials in question “disgusting.”

“We have to do everything we can to make sure that this doesn’t get into the hands of children, especially without their parents’ knowledge.” 

Sen. Todd Beard, R-Williston, also presented a similar bill in the Senate. 

Some libraries are critical of the moves. 

“Citizens should have the freedom to choose the information they want to access,” said Christine Kujawa, director of the Bismark Veterans Memorial Public Library. “In the case of minors, parents are responsible for this, not the government.”  

The North Dakota Library Association also criticized the bills as “acts of censorship and intimidation.” 

However, research demonstrates youth exposed to sexually explicit materials – such as pornography – are more likely to suffer from mental health or behavioral issues since repeated exposure can alter the brain’s chemistry. They also experience less relational satisfaction.  

Both bills are currently being reviewed by their respective Judiciary committees.