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Federal Judge Halts Arkansas Law Limiting Access to Protected Books and Targeting Librarians

Photo of padlock and chain in front of books

Update, July 31, 2023: The Authors Guild is thrilled that the Fayetteville, Arkansas, district court denied the state’s motion to dismiss and preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of an overbroad, unconstitutional law that would infringe the First Amendment rights of libraries, bookstores, publishers, authors, and readers.

We applaud the Court’s wise recognition that enforcing this law would impose content-based restrictions on otherwise constitutional speech and is likely to limit the free speech rights of older minors, who are capable of reading and processing more complex reading materials than young children can. The probable impact of the law would be to cause libraries and bookstores to simply remove books from their shelves, rather than segregate them from the view of minors; such a decision would cause great harm to the First Amendment rights not just of minors, but of other patrons of libraries and bookstores, as well as those of the authors and publishers whose books would be unjustly removed.

Click here to read the press release on the injunction.

June 2, 2023: The Authors Guild, together with the Central Arkansas Library System, five residents of Little Rock and a coalition of other organizations, brought a lawsuit in the District Court of Arkansas asking the court to declare portions of an Arkansas law unconstitutional for violating plaintiffs’ rights to disseminate, receive, and read constitutionally protected books and other media. The law, which was passed on March 31, is scheduled to take effect on August 1.  

One section of Act 372 imposes criminal penalties for providing minors with materials considered “harmful to minors.” A similar provision was previously invalidated by the Arkansas Supreme Court as overbroad and unconstitutional. Adults have the right to peruse such materials, as libraries and bookstores have the right to sell and display them, and it is not possible to restrict the display of materials to minors under this law without also restricting access for adults. Moreover, a substantial amount of material that might be deemed “harmful” to an eight- or ten-year-old child would have to be removed or segregated, even for middle-schooler readers. Another provision of the Act would make it possible for any person in Arkansas to demand the removal of a book from a public library—which would give any individual control over the content of library collections. 

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, had this to say about the issue:  

“The argument that certain books need to be removed from schools to ‘protect children’ is now being used to limit access for adults as well, which infringes upon everyone’s rights. Efforts to remove these books not only diminish the richness of our cultural tapestry but also send a message that the experiences of LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities are unworthy of representation.  

“It is our shared responsibility to safeguard the literary freedom that forms the bedrock of a democratic society. By supporting the availability and accessibility of diverse books, we can foster dialogue, promote understanding, and counter the marginalization of these communities.” 

We will keep our members informed about how this litigation progresses.

Below is the complaint as filed.