West Virginia Bill to Prosecute Museums for “Obscene” Artifacts?

West Virginia Bill Could Enable the Prosecution of Museums that Allegedly Show Explicit Material of Children.

Feb 24, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
West Virginia Bill
West Virginia State Capitol. Via Wikipedia.


West Virginia Bill, appointed by The West Virginia House of Delegates, could bring about a new kind of investigation of cultural institutions. This includes the prosecution of museums that allegedly show minors explicit content. This happens at the moment when conservative lawmakers across repress libraries and educational institutions with book restrictions.


But, West Virginia Bill Does Not Clarify What Obscene Is

West Virginia Bill
The Huntington Museum of Art is West Virginia’s largest art museum. Photo: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.


The authorities approved House Bill 4654 with a vote of 85 against 12, on February 16. After approving it, they submitted it on February 20 to the Senate of West Virginia. The Senate’s Judiciary Committee will now have time to review it. If the legislation succeeds the state legislature’s upper chamber, Republican Governor Jim Justice is certain of approving it into law.


Should the bill become law, schools would no longer be free from criminal culpability under the state code. But, this not only includes schools but also libraries and museums. In this way, these institutions could face criminal charges for providing “obscene” material to children and for displaying it to them. The measure fails to clarify what constitutes “obscene”. It is otherwise ambiguous regarding its application and enforcement.


West Virginia Bill
West Virginia State Museum. Via Wikipedia.


Supplying “obscene” content to minors is punishable by up to a $25,000 fine or five years in state jail under the current state code. According to state law, anything that “an average person” would regard to be depicting or describing sexually explicit action “in a patently offensive way” is considered “obscene.” Second definition: anything that “a reasonable person” would conclude is not valuable in the fields of literature, art, politics, or science.

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Bill’s Opponents Expressed Concerns

The Clay Center
The Clay Center. Via Wikipedia.


Del. Elliott Pritt described the bill’s goal. ”What this bill does do is stop obscene and pornographic material, sexually explicit materials from being available to children in public taxpayer-funded spaces”. State Del. Brandon Steele initially introduced the legislation. The majority of the bill’s opponents expressed their concerns about any unforeseen implications, particularly for libraries.


They noted how books that just mention sex may face more hurdles as a result of the regulation. Furthermore, educators and library employees may face false criminal accusations. ”Because this is still vague, I’m scared”, said House Minority Leader Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell. ”This is a very dangerous bill”. The West Virginia Association of Museums stated that museums are subject to similar concerns.


Mothman Museum
the famous Mothman Statue that sits next to the Mothman Museum. Via the museum.


The association asked state legislators to amend the bill’s wording, stressing that it is in favor of shielding kids from potentially dangerous content. The union, however, denounced the rule as a “vague language” and “indiscriminate change” that puts the professions of librarians and museums in jeopardy. The idea comes after a wave of conservative education bills, mostly centered around book bans, were introduced in Republican-led states.


Since 2021, book censorship has been on the rise. According to an American Library Association report from 2022, book censorship has reached previously unheard-of heights. The research detailed an increasing pattern of harassment and intimidation of librarians, noting that a large portion of the censoring was aimed towards books that featured perspectives from racial minorities and the LGBT community. In compliance with state law, Florida instructors are not permitted to teach Shakespearean plays or literature as of August 2023.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.