Act 372 in Arkansas, slated to take effect August 1, makes it a criminal offense to distribute, provide, or show any content that is deemed “harmful” to persons under 18, the Wall Street Journal reports. Librarians and booksellers convicted of violating the law could face criminal penalties, including up to a year in jail.
NBC News reports that Arkansas librarians and other groups have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn this law, which puts them in jeopardy. The lawsuit claims that the language of the law is too broad to be enforceable, specifically that it does not discriminate between content that would be considered “harmful” to a 6-year-old from that which might be harmful to a 17-year-old.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday in the US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas by the Central Arkansas Library System. “There’s enormous angst and anxiety on the part of librarians in the state,” NBC quoted Nate Coulter, executive director of the CALS, as saying. “Not only do they feel like people in the state government don’t respect their integrity, but they’re seen as a hostile party. They’ve been called groomers. They’ve been accused of being pedophiles. They’re basically targeted by a very divisive, angry group of people who are vocal about believing that somehow the library is the problem in our community.”
Republicans in the state legislature have said Act 372 is needed to challenge inappropriate books they have found in libraries. Many of the books being challenged are LGBTQ-related. Opponents, mainly Democrats, have said the law violates residents’ due process rights under the 14th Amendment by allowing local elected officials to overrule librarians’ decisions about book challenges without providing explanations or permitting appeals from those who disagree. However, findings of inappropriateness can be appealed.