The morality police won in this chapter, but that’s not the end of the book

Idaho has an interesting history of occasionally using the power of government for or against religion. Fortunately, when all is said and done, we usually come back to the concept that the power of government should not be used to advance or target particular religions or religious dogma. And so it will eventually be with legislation like House Bill 710, which seeks to use religious beliefs to purge certain books from the shelves of Idaho’s school and other public libraries.

The Constitution that Idahoans adopted upon statehood in 1890 was replete with shameful discriminatory provisions targeted at the Mormon Church. Under Article VI, section 3, its members could not “vote, serve as a juror, or hold any civil office.” Over time, Idahoans came to their senses and removed these ugly constitutional provisions. We returned to the concept that the government should stay neutral in the religious realm–allowing religious freedom but not forcing religious beliefs upon the population.

The great majority of Idahoans trust Gem State librarians with book selection. Despite any evidence that they have violated that trust, religious zealots in the Legislature were finally successful this year in getting legislation passed to second-guess them. So much for keeping government decision-making closest to the people. Why trust locally-elected school and library boards to reflect community values when we can turn to the morality champions, Representatives Mike Moyle and Jaron Crane, to make those decisions?

Those exalted legislators had the guiding hand of Christian nationalist Blaine Conzatti and his morality police at the Idaho Family Policy Center to lay the groundwork. Based on his mistaken belief that public libraries were dishing out smut to kids, Conzatti launched his crusade against books with any sexual content that ran afoul of his religious views. He as much as admitted that HB 710 was primarily intended to intimidate librarians into self-censoring books that he deemed impure. He crowed that the $250 bounty, plus attorney fees and costs, for refusing to move targeted books would drive up liability insurance costs for libraries. Librarians have been fretting over the cost of trying to fend off the frivolous purge demands that we all know are coming.

There is one important lesson I’ve learned from over five decades of legal and political experience–there is usually a way to overcome adversity. There is a path to righting the damage that will result from HB 710. We just need to buckle down and make it happen.

Everyone who can should vote for reasonable, civil and pragmatic Republicans in the GOP primary election on May 21 and replace the culture warriors who have made our libraries dangerous conflict zones. Unaffiliated voters may register to vote in the Republican primary on election day. Additional culture war extremists can be voted out in the November general election.

The Open Primaries Initiative will be on the November ballot and it is essential that it be approved in order to break the stranglehold that extremists currently have over the electoral process in Idaho. That will eliminate a number of the book-banning, gay-bashing culture warriors from public office for the long term, while facilitating eventual repeal of the book removal law.

In the meantime, librarians must be on the lookout for a good test case to bring before the courts to test the application of HB 710. I’m confident that pro bono attorneys and expert witnesses will be found to defend a library’s refusal to take a worthy book off of the shelves. The party demanding the removal of the book will have the burden of proving the book is harmful to minors, whatever that means. Expert witness testimony will be important and costly for both sides. If the complaining party fails to prove the case for removal, it could face having to pay the library’s costs and fees, in addition to its own. A hefty cost and fee award for a frivolous case could eliminate a vast number of the removal demands that HB 710 can be expected to produce.

So, despite the fact that Mr. Conzatti’s forces have won this chapter of the battle, the final chapter can have a happy ending where Idaho returns to the traditional concept that our government must remain neutral in the religious realm.

Please follow and like us:

6 thoughts on “The morality police won in this chapter, but that’s not the end of the book”

  1. I think next all libraries will not permit anyone under the age of 18 to enter without their parent or guardian. I suggested that to my former representative. I explained that ultimately it is the parent’s responsibility to monitor & approve what their children read & see. My mom took me to the public library regularly when I was a child. I took my sons. I would help them select books and more importantly know when they were due back. This is a ridiculous fight. What “they” deem inappropriate is not what I deem inappropriate. Personally, I don’t believe there should be any books on religion in a public library but I don’t fight to ban those books from anyone who wants to read them….

    1. Thanks for your comments, Karen. Like your mom, my daughter takes her two kids to the local branch library where they choose books and videos that each of them can enjoy. It is a wholesome experience that the book banning crowd ought to try, instead of seeking to impose their book preferences upon everyone else. It is doubtful that their kids are being exposed to smut in libraries, when really horrible stuff is so readily available online. That is where parental responsibility is desperately needed (and often unavailable).

  2. HB 710 was never about protecting kids. If we were serious about that we would make it easier for parents to monitor phone and internet use by children. HB 710 is one of a series of bills that imposes a civil penalty, overrides established local governments, and allows for minority rule. It’s about destroying our institutions and government closest to the people. We know the end game. That is why it is so important Idahoans take your advice about voting and supporting our libraries.

    1. Thanks, Mary. Just like the other culture war issues, the book banning hysteria is whipped up to produce votes for extremist candidates. We don’t hear much about critical race theory anymore because they have milked it for all it is worth and have to scare up votes with some other fake issue. DEI, ESG, LGBTQ, BLM and anything to do with guns have all played a role in the extremist crisis-of-the-year playlist. I think we have about reached the point where voters have had enough and will throw some of the bums out. Fingers crossed. Jim

  3. I am a little confused about who represents the libraries in these lawsuits. Isn’t it the Attorney Generals office? I also
    wonder would it not be prudent to try to have the ‘decency ‘ definitions reviewed to reflect a modern sensibility that includes homosexuality/ LGBTQ+ as an accepted lifestyle. I’m probably butchering the language here but hope I’m getting my question across.

    1. Suits against the libraries would mostly be brought by complaining parents. The parents could represent themselves or hire a lawyer to represent them. The libraries would have to hire a lawyer to defend the suit. If we got a test case where the parental request was clearly unreasonable, it is likely we could find a lawyer to represent the library without charge. Suits could also be brought against a library by the county prosecutor or attorney general. Again, the library would have to hire a lawyer to defend. The language of the statute is ambiguous and a court would have to figure out what it means, particularly what “harmful to a minor” means. The person filing the suit would have to prove how and why the minor would be harmed by something in the book. that would not be an easy task with regard to any book that librarians would put on the shelves. That is why I think the statute is primarily designed to intimidate libraries into removing stuff from the shelves that offends the tender sensibilities of a few prudish parents.

Comments are closed.