LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The ACLU of Arkansas has filed a lawsuit on behalf of several libraries and a handful of individuals 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 one and five 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.
ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said this is one of the many attacks on civil liberties and rights that we have seen not just this most recent legislative session, but over the last several years.
Dickson specifically called it “un-American” to intervene in our ability to access material or information.
“The flavor of the day is to attach a ‘protecting children’ label to it,” Dickson said.
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) sponsored the bill that is now law. Sullivan declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday, though KARK News has talked to him in the past on the bill.
He said back in March the goal was to enable parents and protect children from obscene material. He also reiterated that this does not remove books in libraries, but relocate them to other areas in libraries.
“We’ve kind of reached a point where parents need to be empowered to address some of these issues,” Sullivan said in March.
Dickson also said this is an attack on libraries that is for a political motive.
“Not only is it an attack on our right to share and receive information, but frequently it is black and other authors of color or LGBTQ authors whose works are being targeted for censorship,” she said.
Attorney General Tim Griffin is set to defend the law now and provided a statement in response to the lawsuit Friday.
“I am representing the 28 prosecutors named in this lawsuit, and I look forward to defending the constitutionality of Act 372,” Griffin said.
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.