James Libby, a Maine state senator from Standish and visiting professor at the College, has recently proposed legislation that could prohibit schools from providing students with books and educational materials considered to be obscene.
Official Maine law defines materials to be obscene if they depict sexual acts or images of genitals in a manner that is offensive to the average person and also does not have any literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Under this definition, Libby claims that the bill’s standards are clear enough for schools to make relevant decisions and will protect children from inappropriate content.
Opponents of the bill argue the opposite. Defining material as obscene, they say, can be too subjective. With the censoring of material, students can be deprived of meaningful pieces of education. Another concern is that educators will be unlawfully punished for failing to comply with the bill’s standards.
As the bill is currently written, educators can be charged with a Class C felony if they were to provide obscene material to a student. A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5000 fine.
Libby has publicly disagreed with the written punishment. He stated that he never intended for teachers or librarians to be criminally punished and is currently working on a bill that will lessen the felony to a cease and desist order, which will fall to the superintendent and school board as the responsible parties.
This bill is part of the growing concern across Maine about educational materials. Samantha Duckworth, Chair of Maine Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, stated that in many years, no books are challenged. In 2022, there were 12 challenges, and there have been at least eight in the first two months of 2023.
Similar bills have also been proposed both in Maine and in other parts of the United States. Amy Arata, another Maine state legislator, proposed a bill in 2019 that also tried to prohibit the distribution of obscene materials in schools and warn parents/guardians of explicit materials. The bill did not pass, but Arata claims that the legislation is still necessary.
Much of this controversy stems from one book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe. The book is a graphic novel about a young, non-binary person, and it includes illustrations of sexual acts. According to the American Library Association, Kobabe’s piece is the most banned book in the United States.
On Mar. 1, a meeting of the Windham and Raymond School District Board hosted multiple parent complaints about Kobabe’s book is in school libraries. Many of the parents claimed that the illustrations in the book were too graphic and bordered on pornography. Scott McDonald, a Windham resident said, “We need to have them stop handing out pornography, no matter how you identify or anything else.”
Others at the meeting pushed back against the criticism. A former student, Jake Fuller, responded, “This isn’t how you care about kids. You just care about your bigoted ideas and ignorance. Stop pretending.”
A panel of school board officials is currently reviewing the book, and no timeline has been provided regarding the decision. The book has been mentioned in reference to Libby’s bill as well. Libby mentioned that his bill could result in some pages getting removed but not the entire book.
Concerns from librarians, teachers, parents, and students across Maine continue to arise as the bill and other controversial books continue to be debated.
~ Vivian Nguyen `25
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