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August 30, 2022

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – On August 30, 2022, a judge rejected an effort to label two books as obscene and illegal to sell or lend in the state of Virginia.

The Circuit Court for the City of Virginia Beach rejected two petitions arguing that Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. K. Maas are obscene by holding that the statute pursuant to which the petitions were filed violated First Amendment free speech rights and the constitutional right to due process. Likewise, the Circuit Court vacated a lower court determination of probable cause for obscenity.

“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s proceedings,” said Matt Callahan, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “The First Amendment protects literary expression, even when some people find portions of the works difficult or objectionable. All people should be able to choose what they wish to read.”

The proceedings were initiated pursuant to Virginia Code § 18.2-384—a law that has not been used for decades, but which purports to allow any individual to file a petition claiming that any book is obscene. Under the statute, a book could have been deemed obscene and its distribution could have been made criminal without any notice–much less an opportunity to be heard on the issue –to the countless bookstores, book lenders, and other distributors who would have been governed by the result.

The books being challenged through two separate obscenity proceedings in Virginia state court are Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, an autobiographical graphic novel about adolescence, gender and sexuality, and A Court of a Mist and Fury, a fantasy romance novel by Sarah J. K. Maas. Gender Queer was the most banned book in the United States in 2021, according to the American Library Association.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Virginia, and Michael Bamberger of Dentons, and general counsel to Media Coalition, filed a motion challenging the proceedings on behalf of amici curiae Prince Books, Read Books, One More Page Books, bbgb tales for kids, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers Inc., Authors Guild, Inc., Freedom to Read Foundation, American Library Association, and Virginia Library Association.