LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Several Arkansas libraries have joined with organizations including the ACLU to file a lawsuit against the state over a newly passed obscenity law they claim is a form of censorship that endangers librarians.
The stated intent of Act 372 was to amend the law about obscene library materials to prevent distribution to minors.
The lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas challenges sections 1 and 5 of the act, arguing they violate the First and 14th constitutional amendments regarding freedom of speech and equal protection.
In a release announcing the lawsuit, the ACLU of Arkansas claimed one of the issues that need to be addressed is how the act would criminalize librarians providing what is considered material “harmful to minors” with up to a year in jail.
The lawsuit argues that “inappropriate” is undefined and librarians could be penalized if a minor accidentally enters an adult section of the library.
A 17-year-old high school student plaintiff in the case also states Act 372 limits her access to information.
“To restrict the spaces I’ve accessed freely throughout my life is outrageous to me. I want to fight for our rights to intellectual freedom and ensure that libraries remain spaces where young Arkansans can explore diverse perspectives,” the student, Hayden Kirby, said. “By joining this lawsuit, I hope to make a difference in preserving the rights of youth like me across the state.”
According to the ACLU, the group challenging the law includes Fayetteville Public Library, Eureka Springs Carnegie Library, Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), various individual librarians and readers, Arkansas Library Association (ArLA), Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries (AAAL), Freedom to Read Foundation, Inc. (FTRF), several bookstores and publishing associations, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31 and is due to go into effect on August 1, notwithstanding any judicial delay.