FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A joint lawsuit against recent censorship laws has been filed by multiple Arkansas groups against a bill that would restrict access to books in state bookstores and public libraries.
Fayetteville Public Library Executive Director David Johnson said that “We feel like this community is fierce in the defense of it's first amendment rights and access to information. We feel like it's our role to help fight that fight."
"I think what is harmful to the child is determined by that child’s parents, and not necessarily a group of parents deciding what everyone else’s families should follow or adhere to,” said Johnson.
“There is no real true definition of obscenity that can be applied and spread across all items. What could be deemed harmful to a 5-year-old is different from what could be harmful to a 17-year-old,” Johnson said.
The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states are pushing for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.
Act 372 was signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 30 and is slated to go into effect on August 1.
“We would love for the courts to look at this law and say that 'we’re going to keep it enjoined and that it will not take place on August 1st,' so that we can continue to build collections that reflect the diversity of this community,” Johnson said.
The new law also creates a process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids.
The lawsuit names the state's 28 local prosecutors as defendants, along with Crawford County in Van Buren. A separate lawsuit filed last month challenged the Crawford County library's decision to move children's books that included LGBTQ+ themes to a separate portion of the library.
“Together, we have filed this lawsuit to protect the First Amendment rights of Arkansas’ reading community. Arkansas Act 372 robs the state’s readers of their constitutional right to receive information and threatens the state’s booksellers and librarians with extreme punishments for performing their core – and essential – function of making books available to the public," said Pearl's Books, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Among plaintiffs in the lawsuit is the Fayetteville Public Library (FPL), who voted to approve a motion to join the potential lawsuit in May, according to FPL Communications Director Samantha Herrera. The FPL board's vote to join the lawsuit was unanimous.
“As an organization, we are concerned about the constitutionality of the impending law, as well as the undue burden on libraries to implement it. We are proud to stand in solidarity with all public libraries in Arkansas by being part of a possible lawsuit” Johnson.
Other plaintiffs include Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock (CALS), Eureka Springs Carnegie public libraries, the American Booksellers Association and the Association of American Publishers.
Johnson also mentioned the importance of asking, "'What is [the library's] role in this community?' We're here to provide free and public access to information, and I think that this really puts constraints on our ability to do that,” said Johnson.
Parts of this article were contributed by the Associated Press.
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