Region & State

Benton officials express support for library obscenity law after much public input

Stephanie Duke holds a book she claims is pornographic and available at the Saline County Library during a meeting of the Saline County Quorum Court. The Saline County Quorum Court met Monday evening at the Saline County Courthouse in Benton to discuss a resolution that would restrict children’s access to books that contain “sexual content or imagery”. Duke spoke in favor of the resolution. | John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

This story will be updated.

The Saline County Quorum Court on Monday recommended that the county’s libraries “relocate materials that are not subject matter or age appropriate for children, due to their sexual content or imagery, to an area that is not accessible to children,” in light of a state law signed in March that allows people to challenge library materials considered “obscene.”

The 13-member court passed the resolution with two votes against it after an hour and 20 minutes of public comment from Saline County residents. Fewer than 30 people spoke out of the 50 that signed up to speak.

Supporters of the court’s resolution said content pertaining to racism and the LGBTQ+ community is “indoctrination” that should not be accessible to anyone under 18 years of age. Opponents said that the content in question reflects the community and that trying to restrict access to it is censorship.

Both sides agreed that parents have the right to know what their children are reading. Supporters of the resolution said it would increase parents’ ability to decide what their children read, while opponents said it actually would infringe on parental rights.

“We can’t protect our children from every single dangerous idea,” said John Goff, a math teacher at Bryant High School, speaking against the resolution. “What can we do? We can be their parents.”

The quorum court would likely be responsible for the final say on whether to keep challenged materials on Saline County library shelves or “relocate” them under Act 372 of 2023, which will go into effect 90 days after the session officially ends in May.

Act 372 opens the door for school and public librarians to be prosecuted “for disseminating a writing, film, slide, drawing, or other visual reproduction that is claimed to be obscene.” 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.

A committee of five to seven people selected by school principals or head librarians will be charged with reviewing the “appropriateness” of content challenged under the new law. The committee would vote on whether to remove the material after hearing the complainant’s case in a public meeting. A complainant may appeal the committee’s decision if the majority votes no, and appeals at public libraries would go to the county judge or the county quorum court for a final decision.

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

Two legislators who sponsored Act 372 attended Monday’s quorum court meeting: Rep. Mary Bentley of Perryville and Sen. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro.

The public libraries in Craighead County, which includes Jonesboro, received a funding cut in 2022 after protests over an LGBTQ+ book display and a transgender author’s visit to the library within the past couple years.

Monday’s debate was the first step to Saline County’s libraries experiencing the same thing Craighead County’s libraries did, several opponents of the resolution said.

“I think you have good intentions, but my goodness, think about what you’re doing,” Fred McGraw told the quorum court. “This is a slippery slope.”

Stephanie Duke said she was “not so proud” that her family donated the land where the library in Benton is located. She and other Saline County residents plan to challenge library books they consider “anti-white” and “anti-Christian” and bring them before the quorum court under the new law, she said.

“It’s that serious to keep our rights as Christians,” Duke said, to which an audience member said “Amen.”

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2 replies »

  1. That book Karen is holding up is titled “Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety” I highly doubt there is anything more “pornographic” in there than they’d see watching an episode of their favorite of whatever teen drama of the month is these days. Heaven forbid we teach teens about their body, sex and safety. That may result in less fetuses to be concerned about until they’re born.

    I do agree this should not be in the children’s section, but it should also not be in the adults only section. Put it in the teen section where it belongs, and keep children out of that section.

  2. I don’t think explicit books should be allowed in public libraries, but defining any book with an LGBT character in it as “obscene” is just insane. They know they’re loosing the battle on personal liberties for LGBT people (polls show most Republicans support gay marriage now), so they want to suppress information that could show the LGBT community in a positive, or even neutral, light, so they can indoctrinate children (not just their own, but ALL children) into a far-right ideology. The GOP is no longer the party of freedom, unfortunately. And to call being LGBT “anti-Christian” is laughable, as someone who is an LGBT Christian and believes in “love thy neighbor”. What’s Satanic is hating people for how God created them. These extremists do not speak for all Christians and their goal is to force their false interpretation of the Gospel onto other Christians. This is all quite Stalinistic. I support a rational, third way on this issue, where sexual books are not allowed, but books that just hurt the feelings of the far-right are permitted. Most Americans are in the middle, not the fringes.