Review of State Laws that Would Criminalize Librarianship 2021-22

The 2021-2022 state legislative sessions saw an alarming and unprecedented increase in the number of bills that would remove librarians, educators, or other bonafide professions from exemptions from prosecution under state obscenity laws.

This legislative movement seems to be designed to criminalize these professions and make the normal practices of education, including health and sexuality education, and of librarianship, including circulating books with information about sex or sexual themes, subject to persecution under obscenity laws. In their introduction, statutes like this create a hostile climate for learning and libraries. In their passage, these laws will result in librarians and educators being targets of harassment and even criminal penalties for the regular, normal, and necessary conduct of their work.

EveryLibrary has compiled an overview of state statutes from the 2021-2022 session which were introduced. Three of the introduced bills passed. One was Oklahoma's H3702 (2022) "An act relating to schools" which specifically defined for the first time what job categories and professions are now eligible for prosecution in that state. The others were Tennessee SB2292 / HB 2454 (2021) and Missouri SB775 (2022) which redefined what materials are considered obscene and provided penalties for "distribution". Most state obscenity legislation has not been substantially amended in a generation. In that activist legislators are introducing these bills in the absence of demonstratable need it is a purely political action. 

2021-2022 State Legislation about Obscenity that Passed or Continues

  • Missouri SB775 (2022) This act modifies provisions relating to judicial proceedings. Particularly section: OFFENSE OF PROVIDING EXPLICIT SEXUAL MATERIAL TO A STUDENT (Section 573.550) Summary of Bill | Full Text of Bill

Sponsor: Holly Thompson Rehder (R)

Summary: This act provides that a person commits the offense of providing explicit sexual material to a student if such person is affiliated with a public or private elementary or secondary school in an official capacity and, knowing of its content and character, such person provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans, or coerces acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material to a student or possesses with the purpose of providing, assigning, supplying, distributing, loaning, or coercing acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material to a student.

  • Oklahoma H3702 (2022) An act relating to schools - Passed and Signed Full Text of Bill

Sponsor: Todd Russ (R)

Summary: Requires technology protection measures for their digital or online library databases that prevent K-12 grade students from viewing or receiving obscene material. If a provider of online library resources fails to comply, the state entity is required to withhold payment to the provider. Prohibits certain employees from being exempt from prosecution for willful violations of certain indecent exposure law.

Additional Info: Senator Russ, the sponsor, testified before the Judiciary and Education committees and claimed that the bill protects young people from exposure to materials. He did not mention how it would criminalize educators and librarians. H3702 received little media attention, and the section of the bill that allows for the prosecution of educators and librarians seemed to go unnoticed. Three senators spoke in opposition at the Education committee hearing, but little attention was given to prosecution for exposure to obscene materials. In Oklahoma, the public is not allowed to testify publicly at committee hearings. Written testimony can be sent to senators and representatives. Senator Dossett, who is a member of the Education Committee and who spoke out in opposition to the bill received no written testimony regarding the bill.

  • Pennsylvania HB 2815 - Introduced 9/13/22 and still under consideration in fall 2022 session. - Full Text as Introduced
    Amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in public indecency, further providing for the offense of obscene and other sexual materials and performances


Summary: This short bill would remove school libraries from exemption from prosecution under state obscenity laws while letting current exemptions for public libraries, college and university libraries, and other bona fide professions stand. 

Sponsors: Bell and Weaver, respectively.

Summary: Obscenity and Pornography - As enacted, redefines "obscene" to include material that has educational value; makes various changes to the internet acceptable use policy LEAs are required to adopt; enacts requirements governing providers of digital and online resources; enacts and revises other related provisions. - Amends TCA Title 39, Chapter 17 and Title 49, Chapter 1.

  • Tennessee SB1944 / HB1944 – Referred to Summer Study - Text as Introduced

    Summary: The measure would require the creation of a mechanism for people to file complaints about allegedly obscene material on digital libraries. It also removes common, longstanding protection that librarians and other educational workers have from obscenity laws due to their role in facilitating the flow of information.

State Legislation on Obscenity that Failed / Died in 2021-2022

  • Idaho - HB2176 (2022) - Failed
    Creating a criminal penalty for public or school librarians for distributing obscene materials to minors.

  • Idaho - HB0666 (2022) - Failed
    To Remove A Provision Regarding an affirmative defense and to make technical corrections

    Summary: Removes the exemption from prosecution for public libraries, schools, colleges and universities, and museums for obscenity or distribution of material harmful to minors.

    Commentary: The bill was not voted on in the Senate because the President pro tempore opposed it. According to the Idaho Library Association, the bill will be refiled. Public testimony for H0666 was heard on March 22, 2022.
    • More people testified in support of the bill than in opposition, claiming explicit materials exist in Idaho libraries
    • The two individuals who spoke in opposition were librarians from the Boise Public Library
    • Rep. DeMordaunt (R) said the bill would not criminalize librarians
    • Rep. Woodings (D) argued the bill would criminalize librarians

The bill stalled in the Senate after passing in the House. In the current version of the bill, the section that mentions school, college, university, museum, and public library employees has been deleted.

News Links:

Summary: Removes the exemption from prosecution for public libraries, schools, colleges and universities, and museums for obscenity or distribution of material harmful to minors.
Sponsor: Chris Jeter (R)

Summary: Removes schools and certain public libraries from the list of entities eligible for a specified defense to criminal prosecutions alleging: (1) the dissemination of material harmful to minors; or (2) a performance harmful to minors. Provides that a state educational institution, the school corporation may not include or promote certain concepts as part of a course of instruction in a curriculum or direct or otherwise compel a school employee or student to adhere to certain tenets relating to the individual's sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation.

Sponsor: Tony Cook (R)

Commentary: The final version of the bill was amended to delete the language that removed public library employees from criminal prosecution, but college and university library employees remained. This bill received a lot of media and public attention. The Indiana State Teachers Association opposed the bill along with many parents and community members. ACLU of Indiana also spoke out in opposition bill was added to another bill that dealt with completely different and ultimately did not pass in the Senate.