Elkhart Public Library staff react to county commissioner resolution that supports stripping library protections

NOW: Elkhart Public Library staff react to county commissioner resolution that supports stripping library protections

ELKHART, IND.-- The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday that supports Senate Bill 12.

The bill, currently in the judiciary committee of the United States Senate, takes away protections for public libraries, opening the doors for lawsuits if community members find certain materials too inappropriate.

"My leadership in this resolution does not reflect government overreach in my opinion, but rather a belief that government exists to promote good and to protect its citizens, particularly children from harmful evils while protecting civil rights," said Elkhart County Commissioner Brad Rogers.

The resolution, passed Tuesday, effectively shows the county’s support for Senate Bill 12, a bill that would strip public libraries of certain protections like the obscenity exemption statute that allows educators to give minors access to potentially obscene materials.

But Elkhart Public Library Board President, James Rieckhoff, said the move is fear-mongering, spurred by what he calls right-wing, Christian conservatives.

"They have a great fear that children are being groomed to become deviant," he said. "That is a great threat to the rights under both the first amendment and the bill of rights."

The book that started this conversation in Elkhart county is called "It's Perfectly Normal," a sexual education book that teaches teens about their growing bodies.

Those in favor of the resolution said the book is too inappropriate for minors and is essentially pornographic.

"I mean, come on, we know porn is bad, that's why we don't put it on our shelves," said Lisa Guedea Carreno, Director at Elkhart Public Library. "To me, the question is whether a small, loud, fringe group that thrives on fear and misinformation is going to be allowed to redefine porn according to their values."

Some of the concerns shared by library staff are that the senate bill is unproductive. They argue that just because a book is available, does not mean minors can access it without parental approval.

"We serve everybody, everybody in this district. We have 100,000 people in our library district, with all kinds of views and opinions and life experiences and identities and values," Guedea Carreno said. "We believe that more voices are always better than government-enforced silence."

Supporters say the goal is to protect minors from harmful material, but parents in the community are torn because some of the books that could be censored are educational.

"In all honesty, I'm very disappointed in our commissioners," said Elkhart parent Anthony Hunt. "It makes me suspicious of what the decision-making is. Who is making that decision?"

"It's not whether we legislate morality, but what foundation we build on when we do," said a parent at the Commissioner's meeting Tuesday morning. "If the current loophole is a good thing, then the obscenity law itself must be unconstitutional. If the obscenity law is constitutional, then the loophole cannot be. I'm asking you to please pass this resolution presented by commissioner rogers this morning. Thank you."

County Commissioner Suzanne Weirick is the only one of three commissioners to vote against the resolution, making an appearance at Tuesday’s library board meeting.

She said the resolution is ceremonial and won't actually do anything or affect policy. But she said it is a slippery slope on what groups can scare people into self-censoring.

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