LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed Friday challenges an Arkansas law that would subject librarians and booksellers to criminal charges if they provide “harmful” materials to minors.
A coalition that includes the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock filed the challenge to the law, which takes effect Aug. 1. The new law also creates a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids.
The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states are pushing for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.
The lawsuit said the fear of prosecution under Arkansas’ law, which Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed in March, could prompt libraries and booksellers to no longer carry titles that could be challenged.
“Act 372 forces bookstores and libraries to self-censor in way antithetical to their core purposes,” the lawsuit said.
EveryLibrary, a national political action committee, has said it’s tracking at least 121 proposals introduced in state legislatures this year targeting libraries, librarians, educators and access to materials. The group said 39 of those proposals would allow for criminal prosecution.
“This vaguely written and sweepingly broad directive leaves librarians and booksellers in Arkansas without a clear understanding of what they are legally obligated to do,” said Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward, one of the groups representing the coalition in the lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union is also representing the coalition.
The lawsuit names the state’s 28 local prosecutors as defendants, along with Crawford County in west Arkansas. A separate lawsuit filed last month challenged the Crawford County library’s decision to move children’s books that included LGBTQ+ themes to a separate portion of the library.
Writers’ group PEN America and publisher Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district Wednesday over its removal of books about race and LGBTQ+ identities.
The plaintiffs challenging Arkansas’ restrictions also include the Fayetteville and Eureka Springs Carnegie public libraries, the American Booksellers Association and the Association of American Publishers.