House Judiciary holds fiery public hearing regarding bill seeking to restrict ‘obscene material’ in libraries and museums

By Matthew Young, RealWV

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article includes quotes containing graphic descriptions of sexual situations. These quotes are used in context and have been restated exactly as the speaker said them in the House of Delegates Chamber during Wednesday’s public hearing. 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “‘What Girls Are Made Of’ is not filled with sugar and spice and everything nice. It is a vile, obscene, and grossly inappropriate book for children.”

That’s what speaker Elisa Payne said to begin the House Judiciary Committee’s public hearing regarding HB 4654 on Wednesday. Payne was referencing the 2017 novel “What Girls Are Made Of,” by Elana K. Arnold. 

Proposed by Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, the bill seeks to remove legal protection from schools, museums, and public libraries for allowing minors access to certain “obscene” material. 

In support of her position, Payne read an excerpt from “What Girls Are Made Of.”

“I pull him off the rail behind some trees, and before I can worry if someone will see us, I go down on my knees,” Payne read before committee members and attendees. “I’m unfastening his pants. I pull him out of his underwear, and he’s soft in my hand. I don’t look up at his face before I open my mouth and pull him into it.”

Payne went on to read the full scene, which graphically describes the act of fellatio. 

“There’s also a part about building a lifesize sex toy online, complete with insertion holes,” Payne said. “This is for our 12, 13, and 14-year-old children, […] and housed in our middle school libraries. Our society is morally bankrupt if we continue to allow children access to this obscenity in our schools.”

“And for you who falsely label this as ‘book banning,’” Payne continued, “Write the book. Print the Book. Publish the book. Sell the book, and put the book in a public library with restricted access. We are not banning or burning, we are protecting.”

“Pass HB 4654 to protect our children and our parental rights,” Payne added. 

“What Girls Are Made Of” is the fictional coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Nina. It has a recommended target age range of between 14 and 18-years, or readers between eighth and 12th grade. A review of the book by the School Library Journal states, “The author presents a hopeful conclusion as Nina learns that self-love and fulfillment can be found through helping others. Because of its complex symbolism and graphic imagery, this well-written novel is best suited to mature YA readers.”

A similar review from award-winning author Brandy Colbert presents an equally opposing viewpoint to Payne’s. 

“Stunning in it’s honesty and depth, ‘What Girls Are Made Of’ unapologetically examines the strength, determination, and vulnerability of girls,” Colbert’s review states. “This book is for anyone who is a girl, was a girl, or wishes to glimpse the interwoven beauty and pain that comes with being a girl.”

“What Girls Are Made of” was runner-up in 2017 for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Dr. Monica Brooks, dean of Libraries at Marshall University, spoke in opposition of the bill, saying, “The West Virginia Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee strongly opposes HB 4654, which proposes the criminalization of librarians and library workers based on a user’s perception of what may or may not be obscene.”

Carol Miley, a retired Kanawha County elementary school librarian, spoke in support. 

“I noticed for several years, children’s literature started having some troubling themes, stark overtones, and inappropriate language, but nothing prepared me for what I saw around three years ago,” Miley said. “Vulgar descriptions of sexual acts, filthy language, and pornographic depictions. Many of these are occurring in books that describe homosexual acts and relationships. […] While not all school libraries have these on their shelves, every title we have found is available through public libraries, often as e-books or audio books.”

Miley, who retired in 2011, noted that “many of the offensive titles are even award winners.”

“This is not about banning books,” Miley added, echoing Payne’s remarks. “It’s about protecting our minor children from what I call ‘mind rape’ or ‘word pornography.’”

A chief concern among the bill’s detractors is its lack of any definition for what constitutes “obscenity.” Nor does the bill state which entity shall make that determination, or who the governing body shall be. 

“My name is Brianna Bowen,” another speaker began. “I am a wife, a mother, a Christian, and I am also a librarian. […] I am honored to work in a state whose motto is ‘Mountaineers are always free.’ Ladies and gentleman, that is how I’d like to remain – free.”

“This bill threatens the freedom of countless hard working, tax paying constituents across our state, and instills fear in individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving the public and making your communities better,” Bowen added.

Daniel Curry, a minister at the Church of Christ in Parkersburg, supports HB 4654. According to Curry, “We have a God-given responsibility to protect our children.”

Curry added that he homeschools his children, explaining that “trust has been harmed when it comes to trusting the public school system.”

Sally Roberts, who spoke after Curry, said HB 4654 “seems to be less about protection and more about persecution.”

Even with all of the strong remarks and fiery testimony from both sides of the debate, the hearing’s most impassioned speaker was quite possibly Robin Kincaid.

“Finally the good, God-fearing, bible-believing, upstanding evil-gelical, ammosexual Christians in this House are doing something about obscenity in our schools and libraries,” Kincaid said. “When I was in school, there were books with horrible stories. There was one about a man who lied to his leader and told him his wife was his sister and encouraged the powerful man to fornicate with her. Then his nephew tried to get a gang of men to assault his own daughters.”

“His daughters got even with him though,” Kincaid continued. “They got him liquored up and sexually assaulted him and got pregnant – disgusting. Then this army went into battle killing every man, woman, and boy-child, leaving only the little girls so the priests could rape them in the name of God.”

“No wait,” Kincaid added. “Those are all stories from your Bible.”

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 4654 as additional information is made available. 

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