An Arkansas law that would have mandated criminal charges against librarians who provide “harmful” materials to minors has been temporarily blocked.
Act 372, signed by state governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31, threatens librarians and booksellers with hefty fines of $10,000 and even two years in prison if they distribute material deemed “harmful to minors." A coalition of publishers, booksellers, librarians, and readers filed a lawsuit against the state government in June, accusing the law of aiming to “ban books in libraries and criminalize librarians."
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued the temporary block on the law Saturday, rejecting a motion from the state to dismiss the case. The ACLU of Arkansas applauded the court’s ruling for upholding First Amendment rights.
“The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials? Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that the legislation violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and is a “vague, sweeping law that restrains public libraries and booksellers." Due to the vague nature of the law, many educators and librarians are now uncertain of what materials they could be prosecuted over. Many have expressed anxiety from simply doing their jobs.
Cheryl Davis, general counsel for the Authors Guild, said via NBC that the organization is “thrilled” about the ruling in Arkansas. She added that enforcing the law “is likely to limit the free speech rights of older minors, who are capable of reading and processing more complex reading materials than young children can.”
According to the American Library Association, 2022 was a record year for book bans, with a 138 percent increase over 2021. Overall, 2,571 titles challenged by parents, patrons, and other organizations. The majority of targeted material in book bans and other restrictions in recent years include LGBTQ+ identity or themes such as racism.