Port: If these book ban bills are really about protecting children, why don't they mention violence?

"Proponents of book bans carry on as if our children are being force-fed pornography by perverted librarians. As absurd as that argument is, it's more palatable than confessing to bigotry."

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

MINOT, N.D. — I know I've been somewhat obsessive in my writing of late about censorship bills making their way through the Legislature, but you'll have to bear with me, dear reader.

Government censorship is worthy of obsession. So here I go again, with another point to make.

In 2005, Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. senator representing New York, was at the forefront of a moral panic about video games.

One video game, in particular, drew her angst. It was called "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," and it contained sexually explicit scenes if players used a code that could be obtained on the internet. Clinton, a consummate political grandstander, demanded an investigation.

"Parents who rely on the ratings to make decisions to shield their children from influences that they believe could be harmful should be informed right away if the system is broken," the future presidential candidate thundered , referring to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, which was and still is the American video game industry's content rating system.


"Instead of legislation backed by a celebrity criminal defendant, North Dakota's lawmakers should look at putting more funding into public defenders."
State lawmakers, who are also considering doling out $24 million in private school tuition subsidies, just killed a $6 million appropriation for school lunches.
If you've been led to believe that Summit Carbon Solutions is steamrolling landowners on their way to building their new carbon pipeline, you might want to recheck the facts.

The game was already rated "M," meaning it was only for mature audiences. And while the explicit sexual content wasn't precisely an advertised part of the game, its violence certainly was. The title of the game series refers to a felony crime. The premise of every game in that series — which remains one of the most popular gaming experiences in the world — is crime, violence, and mayhem.

Yet none of that was the crux problem for the panicking parents or the pandering politicians. It was the sex that pushed them over the edge. They were at peace with a game that allowed you to beat a prostitute to death with a bat, but not one that allowed you to have intercourse with one.

I brought up this anecdote during a podcast this week in which we were discussing two North Dakota bills — House Bill 1205 and Senate Bill 2306 — seeking to censor the offerings in North Dakota's libraries, schools, and retail environments.

The bills are stupid and obnoxious and obnoxiously stupid, and, like the moral panic in 2005 over sex in a video game, they're oddly myopic.

The proponents of these bills tell us they're out to protect children from content that's inappropriate for their age. Yet, neither of the bills makes any mention of violence. They're focused on sex.

If we're out to protect the children, why do these bills focus only on sex?

To be clear, I believe the children are already protected by their librarians and teachers and, most importantly, their parents, and have no need of government intervention into their reading habits. And I'd also note that these bills don't just apply to children. They would censor what adults have access to as well.

But still, having written that, I think the question about why these bills take umbrage with sexual content, and not other types of potentially objectionable content, is an important one to ask.


Based on the way these bills are written, access to the Christian Bible, which has lots of sex in it, would be circumscribed, but not Adolf Hitler's fascist manifesto "Mein Kampf," which has no sex in it at all.

Does that make a lick of sense?

Again, none of this is necessary. I trust in the ability of librarians, and library boards, and teachers, and school boards, and, again, most importantly, parents, to appropriately curate the sort of entertainment their children have access to. But this focus on sex, and not violence, does reveal something about the motivations behind these bills.

They're not really about protecting children. These bills are about censoring portrayals of lifestyles — trans, gay, lesbian, etc. — certain lawmakers and not-small constituency in the public find offensive.

Only they can't just say that.

They can't just admit that LGBTQ lifestyles make them uncomfortable. So, instead, they carry on as if our children are being force-fed pornography by perverted librarians because as absurd and divorced from reality as that argument is, it's a fabulism that's more palatable than confessing to bigotry.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What To Read Next
Get Local