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Library groups, booksellers seek to block Arkansas’ Act 372

These books have been banned in several public schools and libraries across the U.S. amid a wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Ted Shaffrey
These books have been banned in several public schools and libraries across the U.S. amid a wave of book censorship and restrictions.

Several Arkansas libraries and library associations are suing Crawford County officials and state prosecuting attorneys in an effort to overturn Act 372. The Act is primarily a measure allowing books in public libraries to be banned or relocated.

Specifically, Act 372 creates a process for books to be challenged in public libraries, with library officials having the option to appeal the challenge with a local and/or city government. Republicans who pushed the bill in Arkansas’ recent legislative session have said the bill was needed to challenge books they have found in libraries that are inappropriate. Many of those books were LGBTQ-related.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Friday (June 2) in the Fayetteville Division of the Western District Court of Arkansas include the Fayetteville Public Library, the Central Arkansas Library System, the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library, and the American Booksellers Association. Defendants listed include Crawford County Judge Chris Keith, members of the Crawford County Public Library Board, and all Arkansas prosecuting attorneys. (Link here for a PDF of the lawsuit.)

According to the filing, Act 372 limits access to constitutionally protected materials, violates constitutionally protected free speech, violates due process, and lacks a judicial review of decisions to ban or relocate library items.

“Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, adults have the right to view, browse through and purchase material protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including material with sexual content that is not obscene. Booksellers have the constitutional right freely to display and disseminate such materials to adults. Adult bookstore customers and library patrons have the right to view such materials,” plaintiff’s attorneys noted in the filing.

Part of the objection to Act 372 includes the ability of a single challenge to cause a book to be banned or relocated.

“Because any person ‘affected by’ a library item can mount a challenge to its availability to minors under the Challenge Procedure, Act 372 effectively empowers any person ‘affected by’ library materials to cause those materials to be unavailable to library patrons for a time while the challenges are processed. The Challenge Procedure creates an unconstitutional prior restraint on First Amendment-protected activity,” the filing noted.

Friday’s lawsuit is the second to be filed attempting to block libraries from censoring books. Attorney Brian Meadors has filed a federal complaint against book censorship actions by the Crawford County Public Library. The action comes almost 20 years after Meadors won a similar censorship case against the Cedarville Public School District. The Crawford County Library has in recent months approved the removal and relocation of books largely because of objections from citizens to LGBTQ content.

Act 372 also is part of a larger nationwide effort by conservatives to ban or relocate books they deem culturally inappropriate or inappropriate based on religious beliefs. The Chicago-based American Library Association recently reported a significant rise in efforts to censor library books in 2022.

“A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship (in 2022), a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color,” the association noted in this report. “Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.”

Talk Business & Politics has sought comment from Gov. Sarah Sanders and Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin. This story will be updated when or if they comment on the lawsuit.

This story comes from the staff of Talk Business & Politics, a content partner with KUAR News. You can hear the weekly program on Mondays at 6:06 p.m.