AUGUSTA (WGME) – A Maine lawmaker who was upset by a novel read by her teenage son for his high school advanced English class wants to ban books she believes are obscene from the state’s public schools.
As it stands, public schools are exempt from the law that prohibits the distribution of obscene material to minors. Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, is seeking to change that.
“It’s really sending the wrong message to kids about what’s appropriate,” Arata said.
Arata said she could not believe what she was reading when she looked at a book her son brought home from high school for a reading assignment.
The book was “Kafka on the shore” by a Japanese author.
Arata said the book “opened up to a page that made me go, ‘Wow, this isn’t normal.’ … It’s just way over the top.”
Arata pointed out passages that included graphic language describing a sexual encounter in one part of the book and a rape in another. She said such material is inappropriate for public school students.
“Society is finally taking sexual abuse and sexual harassment seriously. And this type of material is so far over the top,” she said, adding, “If you were to give this to an employee, you’d get sued for sexual harassment. Yet a teacher can give this to a kid and it’s legal.”
The lawmaker said her bill is about protecting Maine kids — not censorship for adults. Her bill would remove the exception that allows public schools to use obscene material for educational purposes.
But the Maine School Superintendents Association said school boards and districts have policies for handling complaints or concerns about school materials.
That association said it is “opposed to indiscriminate, arbitrary and/or capricious efforts to censor and limit academic freedom.”
Maine’s obscenity statute also states books are only obscene if, as a whole, they lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Because the New York Times considered “Kafka on the Shore” one of the 10 best books in the year it was translated, it would likely not be considered obscene in the eyes of Maine law.