Judge blocks Arkansas law allowing librarians to be charged with “harmful” material

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is temporarily blocked from enforcing a law that would have allowed it criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which also would have created a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be moved to areas not accessible to children. The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year, was set to take effect on August 1.

A coalition that included the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock had challenged the law, saying fear of prosecution under the measure could lead libraries and bookstores to no longer carry titles that could be challenged.

The judge also denied a motion by the defendants, who include prosecuting attorneys for the state, to dismiss the case.

The ACLU of Arkansas, which represents some of the plaintiffs, applauded the court’s ruling, saying the absence of a preliminary injunction would have jeopardized First Amendment rights.

“The question we had to ask was – do Arkansans still have legal access to reading materials? Fortunately, the justice system has once again defended our cherished freedoms,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in a growing number of conservative states push for action makes it easier to ban or restrict access to books. The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the United States last year was highest in the 20 years The American Library Association has followed such an effort.

Laws limiting access to certain materials or making it easier to challenge them have been passed in several other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Texas.

The Arkansas lawsuit names the state’s 28 local prosecutors as defendants along with Crawford County in western Arkansas. A separate lawsuit challenges the Crawford County library’s decision to move children’s books that contained LGBTQ+ themes to a separate section of the library.

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.

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