Amid book ban debate, most Iowans oppose penalties and lawsuits



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Iowans widely oppose legislation that would expand the legal risks schools could face for carrying literature perceived as obscene in their library or on their classroom shelves.

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found that 64% of Iowans oppose the creation of new criminal penalties for teachers and school administrators for distributing books containing obscene material. Just over a quarter, 27%, are in favor of such legislation.

A separate question found that a larger share of Iowans, 71%, oppose parents being able to sue school districts for distributing books that parents say contain obscene material. Twenty-five percent support it.

Both legislative proposals are included in a bill Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, introduced earlier this session. The proposals won some support from Senate Republicans as school districts in Iowa and across the country have seen an increase in book challenges.

However, Chapman’s bill has yet to pass the Senate and other Republican leaders in both houses said they didn’t think criminal penalties were the right approach. Republicans have proposed other laws regarding school libraries, and it remains unclear what action, if any, lawmakers will take on the issue this year.

Meanwhile, Legislature Democrats said schools already have many guidelines and protocols in place.

The new poll reflects those divisions, showing that less than half of Republicans support each of the two measures, while nine in 10 Democrats oppose them.

“I don’t think we need to make criminals out of our teachers. It’s just kinda silly,” said 58-year-old poll respondent Shelley Morton, a Burlington church administrative assistant who identifies as a Democrat.

Selzer & Co. conducted the survey of 813 adults in Iowa from February 28 to March 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Continued: As Iowa school districts face new book challenges, students and librarians speak out against bans

Iowa Senate Speaker Jake Chapman, R-Adel, speaks before Governor Kim Reynolds' State of the State Address, inside the House Chamber, Tuesday night, 11 January 2022, at the Capitol in Des Moines.

Poll follows series of high-profile literary challenges in Iowa, nationwide

The poll is the first to gauge Iowans’ interest in such legislation after several high-profile book challenges in metro Des Moines and across the country. In central Iowa, politicians and parents spoke about the books in AnkenyJohnstone, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines.

Parents who challenge the books have often decried them as obscene or pornographic material and inappropriate for children. The books often feature stories of LGBTQ people and people of color, although many of those who challenged them said that was not a factor in the challenges.

Survey respondent Michael Manley, a 48-year-old insurance underwriter from Waukee, said he thought some of the sexual content in the books was not age-appropriate for K-12 students. 12th year.

“I’m not saying these books should be banned from the general public, but I don’t think public funds should buy pornographic material for our children to read in our school libraries,” said Manley, a Republican.

Manley, whose children attend Des Moines Christian School in Urbandale, said he thinks the law needs effective penalties to give him “teeth”.

Students and librarians say students can be trusted to make decisions for themselves and that in some cases the material has proven essential for students to understand who they are in the world.

In many cases, school districts have reviewed the books and chosen to keep the disputed literature in their libraries.

Some parents and politicians claimed the process was not working properly. They say the books violate current Iowa obscenity laws and prohibitions on providing pornographic material to minors.

Chapman’s bill clarifies that teachers or administrators who provide or compel students to read obscene material would face felony offenses, and they would face an aggravated misdemeanor for hardcore pornography. It would also allow parents to sue school districts if they believe a teacher or administrator is breaking the law.

Iowa law does not currently classify literature as obscene based on isolated passages describing sexual content. The definitions hard pornography and obscene material specify that for something to be obscene, the work as a whole must lack “serious literary, scientific, political, or artistic value”. The law also states that it does not apply to “materials appropriate for educational purposes” in schools, public libraries and educational programs.

Chapman’s bill would specify that “proper material” does not include obscene material or hard pornography.

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Less than half of Republicans support the proposals; 9 out of 10 Democrats oppose it

Neither proposal achieves majority support among any demographic group, according to the poll.

Significant majorities of parents with children under 18 oppose both measures, with 69% saying they oppose allowing prosecutions and 62% saying they oppose creating new criminal penalties.

The overwhelming majority of Democrats oppose both proposals, with 91% rejecting each.

Morton, the mother of a 20-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, said her children received proper literature while in the public school system. She said she believed the systems in place were working well.

“There are people who say that parents have the right to do that. And they have the right to say, ‘I don’t want my child to reach such-and-such,'” she said. “But they don’t have the right to tell others what their children can read.”

Republicans register the lowest level of opposition to both proposals among the sampled groups, but they do not reach majority support for either. Half of Republicans oppose allowing parents to sue school districts, compared with 45% who support it. A majority of Republicans support the creation of new criminal penalties, with 47% in favor and 43% against.

Wayne Graves, a 74-year-old retiree from Iowa City who identifies as a Republican, said he thinks the small groups are taking concerns to an extreme. He said that school libraries already have review systems in place that work.

“It’s out of control,” he said.

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The proposals are among several bills from the Iowa Legislature affecting libraries this year

Republicans have also offered alternative proposals that they say would increase transparency in school libraries. Aa proposal for a “declaration of parents’ rights”, includes a section that would require minors to receive parental consent to view “sexually explicit material” in a school library. The bill does not define “sexually explicit material”.

A far-reaching education bill from Governor Kim Reynoldsa Republican, would also require school districts to post a curriculum and list of library materials online for parents to view.

The Iowa poll found another segment of Reynolds’ bill, which would use public funds to help students transition to private schools or home schooling, has become more unpopular since last year.

It is unclear whether the proposals have enough support to move forward.

Chapman’s bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but failed to reach a floor vote in the Senate. It must both pass a floor vote and go through a House committee by the end of this week to stay alive ahead of a key legislative deadline.

The proposed “Parents’ Bill of Rights” has gone through Senate committees, but has yet to reach the floor.

Reynolds’ education bill is currently eligible for a floor vote in the Senate. The House has also started moving it forward, holding a subcommittee hearing on the proposal last week. However, some House Republicans have shared concerns about the bill, and leaders have placed the bill in the appropriations committee to keep it alive, meaning it’s exempt from funnel deadlines. .

About the survey

The Iowa poll, conducted Feb. 28 through March 2, 2022, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 813 Iowans age 18 or older. Quantel Research interviewers contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers provided by Dynata. The interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted for age, gender, and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent estimates from the American Community Survey.

Questions based on the sample of 813 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 612 likely voters in the 2022 general election have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and methodology, 19 times out of 20, the results would not deviate from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.4 percentage points or 4.0 percentage points, respectively. Results based on smaller samples of respondents, for example by gender or age, have a larger margin of error.

Republication of the Iowa Poll copyright without crediting the Registry and Mediacom is prohibited.

Continued:How is the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll going? We answer your main questions.

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Join it at [email protected]at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

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