Republicans Across the Country Continue Efforts to Redefine 'Prurient' Content

Republicans Across the Country Continue Efforts to Redefine 'Prurient' Content

PIERRE, S.D. — Republicans across the nation continue their ongoing campaign to legally redefine “prurient” — along with other terms like “obscenity,” “pornography” and “harmful to minors” — through diverse pieces of state legislation concerning topics such as online age verification, the purchase of library materials and the zoning of venues allowing drag shows.

Today in Indiana, members of the Republican-controlled state Senate spent two hours disparaging materials available at public school libraries as “sickening,” “nasty” and even "raw pornography,” prompting NBC news station KPVI to report, “An overwhelming majority of Indiana senators believe public school libraries seemingly are filled with pornographic, obscene and otherwise inappropriate materials, and something must be done about it.”

“We're talking about really, really, really bad books,” state Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) — who is behind the effort to purge school libraries — informed his colleagues. “It's so disgusting that I couldn't even bring myself to open it up.”

However, the majority of the material they and local pro-censorship parents identify as “pornography” consists of “nonfiction narratives and novels that merely include scenes of sex, drug use or racism, along with illustrated guides to puberty and growing up,” KPVI reported.

Bill 12 was approved by the state Senate’s Republican majority, and now heads to the governor’s office. The chamber’s president, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, endorsed the legislation via Twitter, declaring, “The school library should be a place for learning, not a license for grooming.”

Censorship Crusaders in South Dakota

Meanwhile in South Dakota, Republicans on the state Senate Education Committee today fought amongst themselves over an anti-drag show initiative.

Three GOP senators broke ranks with their colleagues to help defeat a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) who wanted to empower university authorities to intervene against “lewd and lascivious” content on campuses.

Karr’s bill targeted for censorship shows that exist “for the predominant purpose of appealing to a prurient interest.” South Dakota state law, ABC news station KOTA explained, defines “prurient interest” in part as “a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, which goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters.”

South Dakota recently failed to pass two bills sponsored by state Sen. Jessica Castleberry (R-Rapid City), the most prominent state Republican proposing censorship of material labeled “pornographic.”

On Feb. 16, the Senate Education committee also killed SB 93, Castleberry’s attempt to target school libraries, which was created in collaboration with lobbyists from Family Heritage Alliance Action.

“Make no mistake, this is not a book burning,” Castleberry said during the hearing, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.

Parents opposing the bill and Castleberry’s characterization of South Dakota’s libraries called her claims that schools are involved in pornography “an overstatement and an exaggeration,” and decried her description of teachers and school librarians as “offensive.”

“No school in this state supports pornography for any of its students,” one of the parents opposing the bill said. “That’s an insult to our teachers and the community.”

Castleberry replied, “Nobody is deserving of inherent trust, including teachers,” but could only convince one of her Republican colleagues, and the bill was killed on a 5-2 vote.

'Not Your Daddy's Playboy'

Castleberry’s censorship efforts were highlighted in a recent in-depth article by Ars Technica’s Ashley Belanger about nationwide efforts by Republicans to pass mandatory age verification laws for online pornography.

“After decades of America fretting over minors potentially being overexposed to pornography online, several states are suddenly moving fast in 2023 to attempt to keep kids off porn sites by passing laws requiring age verification,” Belanger noted.

As XBIZ has been reporting, Republicans throughout the country are currently seeking to outlaw all adult content by overturning the 1973 “Miller Test” differentiating First Amendment-protected sexual material from illegal “obscene” material produced to appeal to “a prurient interest.”

Belanger cited the online tracker from Free Speech Coalition (FSC), listing the legislative proposals that have followed in the wake of Louisiana’s recent Act 440 — that state’s age verification law, championed by religious anti-porn therapist and legislator Laurie Schlegel (R-Matairie).

“Florida, Kansas, South Dakota and West Virginia introduced similar laws, and laws,” the Ars Technica report notes, “and laws in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia are seemingly closest to passing. If passed, some of these laws could be enforced promptly, while some bills in states like Florida and Mississippi specify that they wouldn’t take effect until July.”

However, Belinger added, South Dakota’s Castleberry failed to persuade fellow legislators of the urgency of passing her age verification bill, despite her warning that “this is not your daddy's Playboy. Extreme, degrading, and violent pornography is only one click away from our children.”

Sen. Castleberry's Men in Black

Castleberry claimed to Ars Technica that her copycat bill had been defeated because some of her colleagues were “easily swayed by powerful lobbyists.”

Castleberry added, “It’s a travesty that unfettered access to pornography by minors online will continue in South Dakota because of lobbyists protecting the interests of their clients, versus legislators who should be protecting our children. The time to pass this bill was in the mid-1990s.”

Covering this renewed Republican anti-obscenity campaign for TechDirt, which closely tracks legislation affecting online free speech, Tim Cushing wrote that Castleberry “appears to believe her fellow legislators were talked out of passing the bill by shadowy, suited men bearing black bags full of barely used Hustler back issues and handfuls of suspiciously sticky currency.

“Equally as stupid as this scenario is the loaded language used by supporters of these laws,” Cushing continued. “Some of this loaded language actually makes its way into the bills’ wording, resulting in dry legislative boilerplate occasionally punctuated by terms like ‘health crisis’ or a peculiar insistence on referring to any and all sexual content (whether artistic or educational or of public interest) as ‘harmful content.’ This childish thinking isn’t actually going to protect any children.”

FSC has called the current Republican campaign against adult material online, including the copycat age verification schemes, “the most aggressive censorship we’ve seen in decades.”

Main Image: South Dakota State Sen. Jessica Castleberry (R)

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