Region & State

Arkansas Senate approves bill to hold libraries accountable for ‘obscene’ material

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) explains a bill he is sponsoring on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023. Senate Bill 81 would open the door to criminal liability for the distribution of “obscene” content by school and public libraries, with elected officials allowed to have the final say. | Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate

A bill that would open the door to criminal liability for the distribution of “obscene” content by school and public libraries passed the Arkansas Senate on a party-line vote Wednesday and will next be considered by the House.

All six Senate Democrats voted against Senate Bill 81, and 27 Republicans voted for it while two did not vote.

The proposed law would add the loaning of library materials to the statute governing the possession and distribution of obscene material. Arkansas’ definition of obscenity is “that to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest,” with prurient meaning overtly sexual.

The bill would remove schools and public libraries from the part of Arkansas law that exempts them from prosecution “for disseminating a writing, film, slide, drawing, or other visual reproduction that is claimed to be obscene.”

READ MORE: Clark County librarian says bill ‘unnecessary’

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro), the bill’s sponsor, said it will protect children from sexual content and allow parents to be more aware of what their children are reading. Current library policies might not prevent elementary schoolers from accessing sexual content, he said.

If we read the Bible, it refers to rape and incest. The Song of Solomon is very, very provocative. I don’t want people to be able to say, ‘I don’t want the Bible in the library.’

— Senate Minority Whip Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock)

Employees of public or school libraries that deliberately distribute obscene material or inform others of how to obtain it would risk conviction for a Class D felony, the bill states. Knowingly possessing obscene material would risk conviction of a Class A misdemeanor.

CLICK HERE to read the full story for free at

Leave a Reply