Challenging Act 372
Update: On May 25, the CALS board of directors authorized a lawsuit in federal court challenging elements of Act 372. The lawsuit will include as co-plaintiffs a number of other parties, including the Fayetteville Public Library, bookstores, and several individuals.
Under a new law in Arkansas, known as Act 372 that goes into effect August 1, 2023, librarians will be subject to criminal charges for furnishing any item that is “harmful to minors.” This threat of being sent to jail for up to a year hangs over the new process for challenging materials in public libraries that is also created by the law.
The proponents of the new law say their aim is to “protect children” from library books and librarians. Seeing books and librarians as a threat to our kids is hard to square with the reality of what goes on in our libraries. That view is squarely at odds with our librarians’ devotion to encouraging children to read. But ascribing the best of motives and intentions to the supporters of the new law, the plain effect of it as written will be to frighten librarians and deter libraries from offering books for the entire community of readers. Our lawyers and others say the new law is vague and quite broad. It grants authority to interpret terms like “inappropriate,” “obscenity,” “harmful to minors” not to a court but to local legislative bodies like the city board or the county quorum court.
In the face of all that doubt and uncertainty about this law, the CALS board voted last week to authorize our lawyers to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of two provisions of the new law. The suit will seek guidance on the scope and enforceability of Section one, making it a crime to furnish content “harmful to minors;” and Section 5, creating a challenge and review process that grants “final” authority over what books must be inaccessible to minors with local politicians instead of a judge. The suit will be filed imminently.
I sought authority to have CALS file suit because I believe strongly that it is the responsibility of the largest public library in the state to lead efforts to have a court determine the legal and practical obligations of this new law. We are doing this for our patrons and our staff, and to honor our longstanding opposition to censorship and commitment to free speech and the freedom to read. I am heartened by the expressions of support in our community for this effort. Some have offered to donate to a library fund to defray part of the cost of the litigation.
If you are interested in contributing to the legal fund please follow this link to the CALS Foundation site. All donations made there will be used for the purpose of underwriting the costs of CALS in the pursuit of fighting censorship and protecting the freedom to read. If you cannot afford to donate, feel free to share the link with friends.
News about Act 372:
If you are interested in contributing to the legal fund, please follow this link to the CALS Foundation site. All donations made there will be used for the purpose of underwriting the costs of CALS in the pursuit of fighting censorship and protecting the freedom to read.