ABFFE Encourages Booksellers to Oppose Alaska Censorship Bill

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The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) is working with Alaska booksellers and other free speech organizations to oppose House Bill 298, which bans the sale of sexual material to minors, because two provisions of the bill remain unconstitutional.

ABFFE opposes the bill as it now stands because a provision bans the dissemination of sexual material in electronic communications, including material posted on websites. "Booksellers have joined in a number of lawsuits challenging similar restrictions around the country," said ABFFE President Chris Finan, "because they could apply to book jackets and excerpts with sexual content that are posted on a bookstore’s website." In almost all of the cases, the laws have been struck down.

HB 298 also bans the sale of material that "appears" to show a minor engaged in sexual conduct, even if that is not what is actually depicted. "The Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on material that only appears to depict a minor," said Finan.

This week, ABFFE encouraged Alaska booksellers to express their opposition to the bill to their state representatives before a scheduled hearing in the House Finance Committee on Friday.

ABFFE and its partners have already succeeded in convincing the Alaskan House Judiciary Committee to modify the bill so that it no longer applies to all books with sexual content but only to those that, taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest of minors and lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors. "This definition," said Finan, "meets the requirements established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Similar laws exist on the books of most of the other states."

But the Alaska Senate's version of the bill, Senate Bill 222, has not been modified. "It would make it a felony for you to sell a book with any sexual content to a minor under 16, including a sex education book intended for minors like Robie Harris' bestseller It's Perfectly Normal," said Finan. ABFFE is urging booksellers to contact their state senator to express their opposition to SB 222.

Booksellers who have questions about the bills and lobbying efforts should contact Finan at [email protected].