ACLU of Arkansas and Broad Coalition Challenge State's 'Harmful to Minors' Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
June 23, 2003 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Arkansas
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LITTLE ROCK, AR–Saying that an amended state law meant to shield minors from reading material deemed “”harmful”” would also censor valuable speech for adults and teens, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and a broad-based coalition of organizations and businesses today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Arkansas statute.

“”The amended law would require that certain reading material be obstructed from view and segregated in commercial establishments,”” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, which joined the lawsuit on behalf of ACLU members in the state. “”Unfortunately, the law was written so broadly that some great literature which is wholly appropriate for adults and even young adults will be censored.””

The lawsuit, Shipley Inc. v. Huckabee, was filed on behalf of a local bookstore and a number of trade associations representing bookstores, librarians, book publishers, comic book publishers, retailers and distributors in Arkansas, who are concerned that when the amendment becomes effective on June 26, it will prohibit them and their members — at the risk of jail or fines — from communicating valuable information on a wide range of topics, including art, literature, women’s health and free speech.

On March 28, Governor Mike Huckabee signed Act 858, officially amending a state law that regulates what speech is deemed “”harmful to minors.”” The ACLU said that the amended law unconstitutionally requires retailers and libraries to prevent all minors from accessing constitutionally protected materials that may be considered inappropriate only for younger minors.

“”Popular novels and serious non-fiction carried by my bookstores and others feature sexual content or have sexual content on the cover that some might consider inappropriate for young children,”” said Mary Gay Shipley, proprietor of That Bookstore In Blytheville, who joined today’s lawsuit.

Examples include I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck; romance novels by Nan Ryan and Linda Howard; Forever by Judy Blume; and Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort, she said.

“”Under this law, I would be required to create an ‘adults only’ section in my store to display some of the greatest novels and most important works of serious non-fiction. I don’t sell ‘dirty books’ and I resent being treated as though I run an adult bookstore.”” Libraries and librarians run similar risks, Shipley noted.

“”The law has been clear for many years that an attempt to protect minors will violate the First Amendment if it unduly restricts the First Amendment rights of adults,”” said Michael A. Bamberger, a New York-based partner with the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “”As the U.S. Supreme Court has said, ‘the state cannot burn the house to roast the pig.'””

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: That Bookstore In Blytheville, American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression, Arkansas Library Association, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, International Periodical Distributors Association and the ACLU of Arkansas.

The lawsuit seek a court order declaring sections of the Arkansas law as amended by Act 858, unconstitutional.

In addition to Bamberger, the groups are represented by John L. Burnett of Lavey & Burnett of Little Rock, Arkansas.

The complaint filed in this case is available online at /node/34968

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