October 2022 Church & State Magazine

Va. State Court Rejects Effort To Censor Books At Private Store

  Va. State Court Rejects Effort To Censor Books At Private Store

A state court in Virginia has blocked an effort by two far-right activists to put restrictions on books sold at a Barnes & Noble store.

Tommy Altman sued to stop Barnes & Noble stores from selling two titles, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, and A Court of Mist and Fury, a fantasy novel by Sarah J, Maas. In court, Altman was represented by Tim Anderson, a Republican member of the House of Delegates representing Virginia Beach.

Citing an obscure state anti-obscenity statute, Altman and Anderson argued that they were trying to protect children and claimed they were merely asking that Barnes & Noble not sell the books to minors without parental permission. But if the titles had been declared legally obscene, they would have been beyond protection of the law and could have been pulled from the shelves so no one could buy them.

In late August, state Judge Pamela Baskervill dismissed the lawsuit. Baskervill determined that neither book met the legal definition of obscenity. She also ruled that sections of the Virginia anti-obscenity statute are unconstitutional because the law enables censorship by assuming that booksellers are knowingly violating the law when they might have no idea that a particular title on their shelves could be considered obscene.

The Supreme Court in 1973 established a three-pronged test for defining obscenity. One of the prongs states that the work must lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Altman and Anderson are considering an appeal of Baskervill’s ruling, and Anderson has said he might introduce legislation that would make it easier to ban books.

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