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Libraries Contest Law Criminalizing Books 'Harmful' To Arkansas Youth

A group of Arkansas public libraries, booksellers and readers are challenging a new law that restricts what books can be made available to children. The group said in a federal lawsuit filed Friday that two sections of the state law violate the Constitution’s First and 14th Amendments. Act 372, set to go into effect Aug. 1, will make it a criminal offense to distribute, provide or show content deemed “harmful to minors”—anyone under 18 years old, reports the Wall Street Journal. Librarians and booksellers could face criminal charges, with penalties including up to a year in jail.

The plaintiffs, including the Arkansas Library Association and the Central Arkansas Library System said the term “harmful to minors” is too broad and vague. “This will necessarily force libraries and bookstores to confine to a secure ‘adults only’ area—and so to segregate from their general patrons and customers—any item that might be deemed harmful to the youngest minor,” the group said. For libraries or bookstores that don’t have the space or resources for an adults-only section, the only choice would be to remove all materials deemed potentially harmful to minors, the suit said. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who signed the law, says she believes it will help keep children in a safe environment, her spokeswoman said Friday. The lawsuit took issue with the law's provision 372 that allows anyone to challenge the appropriateness of material in the main collection of a public library. The law allows elected officials to overrule librarian decisions about the challenges and doesn’t permit a judicial review, the lawsuit alleged. Attempts to ban books from public libraries have increased in recent years, according to the American Library Association.

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