A group of libraries, bookstores and publishers filed a federal lawsuit Friday to challenge an Arkansas law that restricts children’s books and fines librarians who break the rule, saying it is “unconstitutional.”
Senate Act 81Enacted by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) on March 31 and taking effect in August, the law requires libraries and bookstores to remove all material deemed “appropriate for minors” from their children’s sections and place it in a separate section adult area.
The “Adult Harmful” flag applies to content that contains “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual arousal, or sadomasochistic abuse.” the law says. Librarians and booksellers who break the rule and distribute such material to juveniles face criminal charges and up to a year in prison.
Accordingly NBC NewsArkansas State Senator Dan Sullivan (right), who supported the measure restricting children’s books, said: “We do not exempt doctors from abuse laws. We do not exempt pharmacists from drug laws. … I don’t know why we would exempt librarians from these child harm laws.”
The Arkansas legislation reflects a statewide move to restrict children’s access to certain books in schools, libraries and elsewhere. Attempted book bans and restrictions in schools and public libraries hit a record high in 2022, according to a report by the American Library Association released in March. with more than half of the target LGBTQ+ themed books.
Plaintiffs in Friday’s lawsuit argue that Arkansas law compels bookstores and libraries to “self-censor in a manner that is contrary to their core purposes.”
The lawsuit alleges that the law “provides a substantive restriction on speech” that “is not narrow, is overly broad, and … is vaguely worded,” and says this constitutes a violation of the first and the 14th Amendment. It also states that older minors would be legally barred from viewing age-appropriate material if it is deemed inappropriate for younger children.
In court documentsThe group added that librarians and booksellers who lack the space or resources to set up adult-only sections must remove any material deemed potentially harmful to “the youngest, least developed child readers”.
Adam Webb, a Garland County Library librarian and plaintiff in the case, said in the court documents that he did not believe his library would be able to make the costly changes to its collection to include the approximately 160,000 eligible items separate unsuitable for minors.
In addition, the Garland County Library offers student volunteer positions, many of whom are under the age of 18. Webb pointed out that these minors need access to the library’s entire holdings to do their work, and expressed concern about the possible criminal offenses that could arise as a result.
Advocates from All Arkansas Libraries and the Arkansas Library Association said the law could even ban adults from accessing books if they have young children, who cannot enter the adult-only area with them, but also cannot be left unattended.
The lawsuit isn’t the only challenge to booking restrictions in Arkansas. In May, parents complained Crawford County’s library system to move LGBTQ+ children’s books to the adult section.