A group of Arkansas librarians, booksellers and readers filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a state law restricting what books can be given to minors.
Democracy Forward, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the western District of Arkansas on behalf of the group which includes the Arkansas Library Association and the Central Arkansas Library System.
The lawsuit specifically targets sections one and five of Arkansas’ Act 372, which subjects librarians to criminal charges including up to a year of jail time if they distribute content like books, magazines, and moves that are considered “harmful to minors.”
Act 372 was signed into law by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31 and is expected to go into effect in August.
“Library workers across Arkansas are rightly concerned that the overly broad edicts of Act 372 will prevent them from serving their patrons as they have always done, by providing a wide variety of materials to fill their information needs, and perhaps more importantly, materials that allow each child to see themselves in the books in their library,” said Arkansas Library Association President Carol Coffey, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs argue that the “vague and sweeping law” violates the rights of Arkansans protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
“Act 372 forces bookstores and libraries to self-censor in a way that is antithetical to their core purposes,” the lawsuit says.
Plaintiffs fear the law will force libraries and bookstores to create “adults only” areas to accommodate materials that are deemed harmful to minors, plaintiffs fear, according to the lawsuit.
But in spaces where there is not enough room or resources to create an “adults only” area, libraries and bookstores will be forced to remove all materials “which might be deemed harmful to their youngest, least developed patrons or customers.”
The lawsuit is the most recent effort against a wave of legislation targeting books that has swept across the country.
Last month, book publishing giant Penguin Random House and free-speech organization PEN America sued a Florida school district over its removal of books about race and LGBT identity.
In that lawsuit, Penguin and PEN alleged that the Escambia County School District and School Board violated the first and fourteenth amendments by removing 10 books from school libraries last year.
Efforts targeting books in schools have skyrocketed over the last two years, particularly in Republican-led states like Florida, Texas, and Missouri.
PEN America has counted over 4,000 instances of book removals since July 2021.
And last year saw the highest number of documented book bans since the American Library Association began keeping track of book censorship efforts in 2001.
Source : The Hill