Virginia Republicans Take Barnes & Noble to Court

Judge finds probable cause that 2 books are obscene, may bar sale to minors
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2022 3:00 PM CDT
Virginia Republicans Take Barnes & Noble to Court
Amanda Darrow of the Utah Pride Center poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in December in Salt Lake City.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A judge in Virginia is considering whether to issue a restraining order against Barnes & Noble, after saying there's probable cause that two books it sells are obscene. The request for a restraining order accompanies a lawsuit filed by two Republicans, state Del. Timothy Anderson and congressional candidate Tommy Altman. Anderson said the suit is intended to keep minors from acquiring the books without parental consent, the Washington Post reports. The two also seek a restraining order against Virginia Beach City Public Schools. "These books … are hypersexual and have extreme vulgar and sexual content in them," Anderson said.

The books are Gender Queer, an illustrated memoir about coming out as genderqueer or nonbinary, by Maia Kobabe, and A Court of Mist and Fury, a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas. The Virginia Beach school board voted last week to pull Gender Queer from its the district's libraries. The book includes explicit sexual scenes, one that opponents say suggests pedophilia. The American Library Association lists it as the most challenged book in the US last year. A Court of Mist and Fury has drawn less opposition; Common Sense Media recommends it for readers 17 and older. Under Virginia law, per the Post, the probable cause finding on obscenity allows for restraining orders as the next step.

A hearing is held three weeks later, at which the judge is to consider factors including the author's intent and reputation. The result could be a finding that makes distributing, selling, or even lending the books illegal in the state. Patrick Sweeney of EveryLibrary, a nonprofit advocate for libraries, said he expected attempts to progress from trying to limit what schoolchildren are allowed to read to trying to limit what the public at large can read. Anderson said bookstores would just move the book from "available to children" to "available to adults." Sweeney said the argument when trying to ban books has been, ‘Well you can still buy it at Barnes & Noble,’” Sweeney said. "Clearly, soon you won’t be able to." (More book ban stories.)

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