Huntington Beach considers limiting children's access to certain books

The Huntington Beach City Council met Tuesday to discuss limiting children's access to certain books without their parents' permission.

The suggestion was brought forward by Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark. She said it's "not a book ban. I never mentioned the words ‘book ban.'" The motion would restrict books in the local library dealing with gender issues and sexuality. Van Der Mark believes the books should not be available to minors without their parents' consent.

The books Van Der Mark wants to restrict are written for teens and young adults, but she considers them obscene and pornographic. A book like S.E.X., the All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, she said "teaches you BDSM and sadomasochism… I believe we need to find a way to put safeguards in place, so parents are aware their children are checking these books out."

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Critics of the decision, like the group Friends of the Huntington Beach Library, argue that restrictions like the ones Van Der Mark are proposing go against the First Amendment. They say that librarians are trained to place books in sections of the library that are age appropriate. 

"Adults and children both have First Amendment rights," said David Loy. "The government does not have the right generally to tell people what they can and cannot read, what they should or should not read, or by extension, segregating or discriminating against particular books by putting them under lock and key simply because of the content of those books, or because some people don't like the content of those books."

Allison Lee works with the nonprofit Pen America, which works to preserve books and prevent book restrictions. She said that Van Der Mark's proposal is a book ban in all but name.

"You might not call it a ban. You might not want it to be thought of as a ban, but the removal and restriction of titles using words like obscenity and pornography, when these books do not remotely fit the well-established legal and colloquial definitions of pornography, is nothing short of a ban," Lee said.

The Huntington Beach City Council will not vote on the proposal during Tuesday's meeting, but the Council will explore ways to limit minors' access to certain books and potentially create some sort of parental notification system.