Freedom to Read Foundation Joins Coalition of Publishers, Booksellers, Librarians and Readers in Filing Suit to Defend Arkansas Citizens’ Right to Read
For Immediate Release
Deputy Director, Communications
Public Policy and Advocacy
American Library Association
Suit Challenges Arkansas Act 372, a Bill That Would Restrict Access to Books in State Book Stores and Public Libraries
The Freedom to Read Foundation, the First Amendment legal defense arm of the American Library Association, today joined a broad coalition of authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and readers today filed suit in The United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division, challenging Arkansas Act 372, a law that would restrict access to books in bookstores and libraries located within the state, and in the process violate the First Amendment rights of the state’s reading public. The bill was signed by the Governor of Arkansas on March 30 and is slated to go into effect on August 1, 2023.
Carol Coffey, President of the Arkansas Library Association; Nate Coulter, Executive Director of the Central Arkansas Library System; Alison Hill, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild; Deborah Caldwell- Stone, the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation; Pearl’s Books; Kandi West, Lia Lent and Lynne Phillips, owners of WordsWorth Books; and Adam Webb released the following statement on the suit:
“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. This law will ultimately force bookstores and librarians to restrict their offerings to works that are suitable for minors, or bar them from entering institutions that have long served as the nexus between community and learning.
“We oppose any and all efforts to undermine the First Amendment, which is foundational to our democracy and critical to the lawful exchange of art, literature, and information. Books have long shaped our understanding of the world around us and provided readers with the chance to explore topics that span a vast spectrum of ideas and experiences. The booksellers and librarians of Arkansas are stewards of that proud tradition, and their essential mission of serving the state’s readers must be preserved.”
The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association. FTRF protects and defends the First Amendment to the Constitution and supports the right of libraries to collect—and individuals to access—information.
“The Freedom to Read Foundation stands with our co-plaintiffs in challenging Arkansas Act 372, which threatens to criminalize the work of librarians and booksellers, and empty Arkansas’ library shelves," said FTRF Executive Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone. "The legislation shows egregious disregard for the work of trusted library professionals and the First Amendment rights of the people of Arkansas. FTRF will always be on the front lines of the fight to preserve the freedom to read, both in Arkansas and throughout the nation."
What the Bill Would Do
The lawsuit will challenge two provisions of Act 372 that violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. One component of the new law makes it a crime for libraries, booksellers, and any brick-and-mortar establishment that makes it a crime to display or make available works that might be harmful to minors. This will require libraries and booksellers to limit all readers to books appropriate for minors or exclude all minor readers from their premises.The second provision makes it possible for any person in Arkansas to demand the removal of a book the person deems inappropriate, limiting readers to one person’s opinion about what books should be in the library.
The plaintiffs in the suit include the American Booksellers Association, Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, and two local bookstores--WordsWorth Books in Little Rock and Pearl’s Books in Fayetteville, and the Association of American Publishers, as well as a consortium of local libraries, librarians, and library advocates, which includes Fayetteville Public Library, Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library, Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), Arkansas Library Association, Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries, Nate Coulter (Executive Director of CALS); Adam Webb, a librarian from Garland County; Olivia Farrell, an adult CALS patron; and Hayden Kirby, a 17-year-old CALS patron.
Counsel for the various plaintiffs include John T. Adams of Fuqua Campbell, P.A.; Michael Bamberger of Dentons; Bettina Brownstein of the ACLU of Arkansas; and Benjamin Seel and Will Bardwell of Democracy Forward.