Free-speech groups, book world fight back in Virginia obscenity case

Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel was removed from Loudoun County high schools.
Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel was removed from Loudoun County high schools.(Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 12:19 PM EDT
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Book publishers, booksellers, authors, and free-speech groups are pushing back against a Virginia law that allowed obscenity claims to proceed in court against two books that have come under fire from conservatives who say they’re inappropriate for young readers.

The ACLU of Virginia, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and numerous bookstores and book proponents are getting involved in the legal case playing out in Virginia Beach, where a retired judge made an initial ruling indicating the LGBTQ-themed memoir “Gender Queer” and the fantasy novel “A Court of Mist and Fury” could be considered obscene for minors due to explicit sex scenes. The case has drawn national attention due to the seemingly unique attempt to restrict sales of the books by private bookstores as opposed to simply removing them from public school libraries.

Michael Bamberger, a top First Amendment lawyer based in New York, worked with the ACLU to file a motion to dismiss the case on behalf of the Authors Guild, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, American Library Association, Virginia Library Association the Freedom to Read Foundation and a handful of small, independent Virginia bookstores. The groups, according to court filings, have “a strong interest in ensuring that a broad selection of non-obscene fiction and non-fiction reading material be made available to readers, including material that challenges them.”

“I believe that children should be encouraged to read whatever interests them, whatever they find meaningful,” Bamberger, senior counsel at the Dentons law firm, said in an interview. “And setting up these sort of baskets that say no minor can read this book is not the way to go.”

Attorneys for the publishers and authors of the two books are also seeking to have the case dismissed, arguing the Virginia law is unconstitutional and the books themselves cannot be considered obscene based on sex scenes that only make up a portion of a larger literary work.

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NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)

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