Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Ban On Librarians Giving Children ‘Harmful’ Books

The law makes providing "harmful" material a misdemeanor.
LONDON - DECEMBER 1: A student studies in the main library at the University College London on December 1, 2003 in London. British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces mounting revolt from MPs following legislation proposals announced by the Queen in her speech to Parliament to allow universities treble their fees. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

A federal judge has blocked an Arkansas law that would have hit librarians with criminal charges if they provided “harmful” books to children.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks issued a preliminary injunction Saturday against the law.

The new law would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for libraries to knowingly provide a child with any “harmful” material, punishable in Arkansas by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Arkansas law defines “harmful to minors” as containing nudity or sexual content, appeals to “a prurient interest in sex to minors,” lacks “serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors,” and is considered “offensive” to show to children by current community standards.

The judge’s injunction said the law “would permit, if not encourage, library committees and local governmental bodies to make censorship decisions based on content or viewpoint,” violating the First Amendment.

He noted that providing children with obscene material is already illegal in Arkansas. Previously though, libraries were protected from criminal charges for handing out obscene material if they were “acting within the scope of his or her regular employment.”

The judge also said the definition of “harmful” materials was vague.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed the measure in March, and the law was set to take effect on Tuesday.

The Central Arkansas Library System as well as the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and several local libraries filed a lawsuit over the law last month.

The plaintiffs said the law would put libraries and booksellers in the impossible position of figuring out how to prevent minors from seeing adult material or face criminals charges and fines.

The plaintiffs also took issue with the part of the law that says that any person “affected” by material may challenge the “appropriateness” of the material in the library.

After the judge’s decision, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said his office would be “reviewing the judge’s opinion and will continue to vigorously defend the law.”

The ACLU of Arkansas, which represented some of the plaintiffs, hailed the judge’s Saturday decision, saying the law would have would have jeopardized the First Amendment rights of all Arkansas residents.

“It’s regrettable that we even have to question whether our constitutional rights are still respected today. The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials?” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said.

In recent years, children’s material in libraries as well as school curricula has become a hot button issue for parents who say inappropriate content is within arm’s reach for their children.

Last month, hundreds of parents and others in Virginia packed into a county Board of Supervisors meeting to protest dozens of children’s books in the Front Royal public library they said contain inappropriate sexual content.

Parents at school board meetings across the country have shown up at school board meetings to protest inappropriate books in their children’s school libraries, sometimes even reading obscene passages from the books to get their point across.

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