Judge Blocks Arkansas Law Targeting ‘Harmful’ Books For Kids

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against an Arkansas law that would have impacted librarians’ ability to provide certain books to children. The law, which was set to take effect soon, sought to hold librarians criminally accountable for distributing “harmful” or “obscene” material to minors.

Under the law, libraries found guilty of knowingly giving children any material deemed “harmful” would have faced Class A misdemeanor charges. This could result in up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500.

In Arkansas law, the term “harmful to minors” is defined as content containing nudity, sensual content, or material that contains inappropriate appeal to minors. It also included material lacking “serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors,” and material considered “offensive” by current community standards.

The injunction, issued by U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks, highlighted concerns that the law would empower library committees and local governmental bodies to make censorship decisions based on content and viewpoints. According to him, that would be a violation of First Amendment rights.

Brooks also pointed out that Arkansas already had laws in place to address the provision of obscene material to minors. According to him, the definition of “harmful” materials was not clear.

The law, which was set to go into effect on Aug. 1, was signed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) in March amid increasing concerns among parents about inappropriate content in children’s materials available in libraries and school curricula. 

However, it faced mounting opposition from various groups including the Central Arkansas Library System, the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association and several local libraries who brought forward the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs collectively argued that the law would put libraries and booksellers in a tight position where they’d have to navigate how to prevent minors from accessing adult material or risk facing criminal charges and fines.

Another contentious aspect of the law the coalition pointed out was that any person “affected” by material in a library had the right to challenge its “appropriateness.” This provision raised concerns about potential abuse and undue restrictions on access to information.

Per CBS News, Brooks also threw out attempts by prosecuting attorneys for the state to have the case dismissed. The ruling is, however, not permanent, as Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin promised his office will review the opinion and “will continue to vigorously defend the law.”

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