Judge Blocks Arkansas Law Allowing Librarians to Be Charged Over ‘Harmful’ Materials

Jane Nguyen
By Jane Nguyen
July 31, 2023US News
Judge Blocks Arkansas Law Allowing Librarians to Be Charged Over ‘Harmful’ Materials
Nate Coulter, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), looks at a book in the main branch of the public library in downtown Little Rock, Ark., on May 23, 2023. (Katie Adkins/AP Photo)

A federal judge ruled on Saturday to temporarily block portions of an Arkansas law that would subject librarians and bookstores to criminal charges for providing “harmful” materials to minors.

Act 372, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March, would hold librarians and book vendors criminally liable for making allegedly inappropriate books accessible to minors. Providing banned materials under the law to a minor would be a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by up to a year of jail or a $2,500 fine.

The measure was set to take effect Aug. 1 but will now remain blocked while the case plays out.

Last month, a coalition that included the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock filed a lawsuit arguing that a section of the law violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Act 372 “imposes a content-based restriction on speech” and “fails to provide clear notice as to what acts are criminalized,” according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

“This will necessarily force libraries and bookstores to confine to a secure ‘adults only’ area–and so to segregate from their general patrons and customers–any item that might be deemed harmful to the youngest minor, even if there is no constitutional basis for limiting its availability to older minors or adults,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also challenged another section of the law that would have allowed individuals to challenge libraries over a material’s “appropriateness.”

The lawsuit claims Act 372 gives “unfettered discretion to quorum courts and city councils to decide whether materials are ‘appropriate’ without any definite procedural safeguards or standards.”

The plaintiffs argue that fear of prosecution under the measure could prompt libraries and booksellers to no longer carry titles that could be challenged.


Backers of the law say no one under 18 should be able to access content on LGBT topics, racism, or sexuality, calling it “indoctrination.” Opponents of the law say this content reflects the community and that restricting access amounts to censorship.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks of the Western District of Arkansas, an Obama appointee, ultimately agreed in his preliminary injunction, citing concerns about potential violations of the First and 14th amendments.

He described the law’s definition of “appropriateness” as “fatally vague,” arguing that it would be too challenging to enforce the law without infringing on constitutionally protected speech. Material deemed “harmful” for the youngest minors may be appropriate for the oldest minors or adults, Judge Brooks said.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Sanders said the governor continues to support the law despite the ruling.

“The governor supports laws that protects kids from having access to obscene content and the idea that Democrats want kids to receive material that is literally censored in Congressional testimony is absurd and only appropriate in the radical left’s liberal utopia,” Ms. Sanders’s communications director Alexa Henning said in a statement to CNN.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represented some of the plaintiffs, welcomed the judge’s injunction.

“It’s regrettable that we even have to question whether our constitutional rights are still respected today. The question we had to ask was – do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials?” Holly Dickson, the executive director of ACLU Arkansas, said in a statement. “Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties. We are committed to maintaining the fight to safeguard everyone’s right to access information and ideas.”

The Arkansas lawsuit names the state’s 28 local prosecutors as defendants, along with Crawford County in west Arkansas. A separate lawsuit is challenging the Crawford County library’s decision to move children’s books that included LGBT themes to a separate portion of the library.

The plaintiffs challenging Arkansas’s restrictions also include the Fayetteville and Eureka Springs Carnegie public libraries, the American Booksellers Association, and the Association of American Publishers.

CNN Wire contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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