Could Nudity Harm Indiana’s Minors, Booksellers?

Alison Morris - March 31, 2008

One of the big topics in the bookselling world recently has been the news that the state of Indiana has put a new law on the books that will require any businesses that sell "sexually explicit material" to register with the state government. To quote from PW‘s article on this subject, "‘Sexually explicit material’ is defined as any product that is ‘harmful to minors’ under existing law. There is a $250 registration fee. Failure to register is a misdemeanor."

While the law applies only to stores that are newly established, relocated, or that to sell "sexually explicit material" for the first time after the law goes into effect on July 1st, established bookstores are understandably upset about it. The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression has condemed the law on grounds that it is a violation of Indiana booksellers’ (and customers’) First Amendment rights and therefore unconstitutional. They are considering filing a legal challenge to the law.

Indiana booksellers, 15 of whom signed a letter sent by ABFFE to Indiana’s governor last week, are concerned that the state’s vague definitions of "sexually explicit material" could get them into trouble for selling books on health and human sexuality, many titles considered classic literature, and who-knows-how-many young adult novels.

The Indiana Library Federation’s "Intellectual Freedom Manual" provides more specific insight into the wording Indiana uses in Title 35, Article 49. Matter is reportedly considered "harmful to minors" if it "describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse; considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors; it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for minors; and considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."

Could this be any LESS specific??

The fact that nudity in itself is considered "harmful to minors" threw me for a loop. I expected to see "sexual conduct" mentioned, but nudity?! How many art books can you think of that DON’T contain nudity? Or, to play the opposite end of the age spectrum, how many potty training books avoid images of naked toddlers?

As for the "prurient interest in sex of minors," it raises for me the same question asked (in the Indianapolis Star article) by Henry Carlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis and expert on the First Amendment: "The problem is, minors have an interest in sex, prurient or otherwise, and how do you distinguish what is normal and what is prurient?"

Question on the table: If you were (or are) an general or children’s bookseller in Indiana, what do you do under this new law? Do you register with the state and see your store’s name listed alongside self-professed peddlers of pornography? Or do you make the decision NOT to register, and run the risk of facing charges or being fined? You tell me.

And if you have an answer to the question of how you determine whether a teenager’s interest in sex is normal or prurient, I’d like to know that too!

8 thoughts on “Could Nudity Harm Indiana’s Minors, Booksellers?

  1. kat

    I think this law is just about the most idiotic thing to come out of a politician’s mouth–and there’s a lot of competition on that ground, so, wow. Way to raise natural, healthy children by making sure that nudity is something wrong in their little minds. What could be more wrong than teaching a child to be ashamed of themselves? I am ashamed of the lawmakers who thought this up.

  2. Kevin A. Lewis

    Sounds like somebody’s daughter or son got caught with some racy manga and they’re worried about cultural subversion… We’ll see what kind of materials the morality dragnet brings in, I guess….

  3. Beth

    Has the cold frozen their brains? Do they realize the *Bible* would be banned from this list? Get real people. If parents want to dictate what their children read, then pay attention to your children and be a part of their lives. But this world doesn’t need more censorship. If I were a bookseller in Indiana? I would leave the backward inbred state. Get out of the cornfields people.

  4. Sarah

    Whoa. We’re not all backwards and inbred. But, yes, the law is all sorts of idiotic and I can see it opening up a whole can of worms for booksellers. Just another thing we have to worry about. People need to parent their own children instead of demanding the state to do it.

  5. howard zimmerman

    Not all minors are created equal. What is fine for a five-year-old may be offensive to a twelve-year-old, and vice-versa. This is the kind of legislation that leads to book burning.

  6. J.D.

    This is so blatantly unconstitutional its amazing they were made lawyers (because most lawmakers are lawyers). The Supreme Court precedent for decades has been (paraphrasing here)”just because a child may have a chance to get a hold of adult material does not mean that this material may be restricted.” This comes from the case Miller v. California, which I believe is also the case where the precedent was set for judging por–nography which is stated as something that (paraphrasing again) “lacks serious artistic or literary and is against the prurient interest.” Indiana has included this last bit in their law to get around the Supreme Court, but seriously, how dumb do you have to believe that? A normal bookstore would not SELL anything that does not have “serious artistic or literary merit”. Indiana booksellers, fight the law, the REAL law is on your side! (Sorry for the wierd spelling of the P word, the commenting machine won’t allow it to be spelled as one word.)

  7. Sharon K. Yntema

    I think it doesn’t matter if a teenager’s interest is normal or prurient if the book is good literature. I think it’s normal for teenagers to be prurient, doesn’t the blogger remember when she was a teenager? I’d ignore the law unless it came looking for me. Then I’d legally protest.


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