Huntington Beach council approves ordinance restricting minors' access to books with sexual content

Jaysha Patel Image
Wednesday, October 18, 2023
Huntington Beach approves restricting minors' access to certain books
The Huntington Beach City Council has approved an ordinance that will restrict access for books containing sexual content in the city's library system.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- The Huntington Beach City Council has approved an ordinance that restricts children's access to books containing sexual content in the city's library system.

The proposal drew criticism from the First Amendment Coalition, the Freedom to Read Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, which co-signed a letter to the City Council opposing the measure.

David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition, said the ordinance was "unconstitutional." In an open letter, opponents of the ordinance cited multiple Supreme Court cases knocking down similar attempts at censorship.

Free speech is "especially salient in a public library," the First Amendment Coalition said in the letter. "Unsurprisingly, courts have rejected similar misguided attempts to restrict access to library books."

"Parents and children have the right to decide for themselves what library books to read," said Loy said. "The government does not belong in the censorship business."

Loy said the proposal was so vague, sexual content could be found in "the Bible, Romeo and Juliet', The Great Gatsby,' you name it. It's one of the most absurd forms of censorship. The City Council should not be directing the city public library to engage in censorship."

When Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark proposed a change in library policy in June, she read passages from several books for young readers that she claimed were recommended by the state and were in the city library's children's section. One of the books she cited was "Gender Queer."

"I do believe parents have a right to know" about what books are available to check out at the library, she said.

"What I am asking is we look into different ways to protect kids," she said. "If you want this for your kids go for it... but a lot of parents don't know this material is in the books."

Van Der Mark suggested placing "a sticker on books to let parents know it is especially graphic."

Before the ordinance was a approved, residents addressed the councilmembers during the public comments section of the City Council meeting.

"If you proceed with this crazypants book ban, this is what you will be known for -- forever," one woman said. "You're the book-banning lady."

Another speaker said: "If we cannot protect the innocence of children, if that's not common ground and our most basic responsibility, how do we thrive as a civil society?"

City News Service contributed to this report.