The Assembly Education Committee Votes to Protects Librarians

Martha Hickson talked of being labeled a “pedophile” and a “groomer.”

And of strange vehicles cruising by her home.

Hickson is a librarian at North Hunterdon High School.

Some of this may seem surreal, but to Hickson, it’s the reality of 2024.

Hickson was very much the featured witness in a legislative hearing earlier this month on a proposed bill to protect Hickson and other librarians from criminal liability for doing their jobs.

The Assembly Education Committee endorsed the bill with only one dissenter and one abstention. But there’s still a long way to go. A Senate committee has not acted yet and amendments are expected on what supporters call the “Freedom to Read” act.

The backstory here is a national battle over what gets taught in public schools, or more specifically in this case, what books kids read.

In various school districts around New Jersey, mostly conservative parents and organizations have condemned what they call “pornography” in school libraries. Most of the books in question have sexual and/or LGBT themes.

Critics say they’re obscene and inappropriate for minors.

Supporters, such as Hickson, contend these books help students cope with their sexuality, and what’s more, parents who don’t like the books can make sure their kids do not read them.

We’ve seen the issue play out at contentious school board meetings and even in court. A librarian in Roxbury, Morris County, is suing four critics for allegedly defaming her. The suit is pending.

Now, the Legislature is getting involved.

The core of the bill backed by the committee would mandate that:

Boards of education and governing boards of public libraries are not to exclude library material from the library because of the origin, background, or views of the library material or those contributing to its creation. Boards of education and governing boards of public libraries are not permitted to engage in censorship.Students and residents are to be able to reserve or check out any developmentally appropriate library material, including diverse and inclusive material. 

Further, this committee substitute provides that a school library staff member, librarian, and any staff member of a public library is to be immune from civil and criminal liability for good faith actions in complying with the requirements of the substitute.
A lengthy hearing on the bill mirrored arguments made at board meetings throughout the state.

Critics, including a representative of the Bergen County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national group, raised a number of concerns:

The bill does not protect parents’ rights.

It legitimizes pornography for students.

It should be called the “freedom to distribute obscene material act.”

There was – as noted – talk of amendments to come, but it’s hard to see a compromise here.

Supporters of the bill tried, suggesting – as mentioned – that reading any book is optional, not mandatory.

In response, a critic of the bill said that was a “false equivalency,” because providing kids with “obscene” material is against the law.

Of course, not everyone views many of the books in question as obscene.





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3 responses to “The Assembly Education Committee Votes to Protects Librarians”

  1. I support protection of Librarians and libraries to provide diverse and inclusive reading materials chosen by librarians. Censorship is not constitutional.

  2. Have you seen the materials in question ?
    It is important to see what the questionable books are to make a proper assessment. We should not put a blanket “trust” over anyone and excuse them from liability. Everyone should be accountable.

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