COLUMBIA, S.C., AUG. 13 -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit today challenging a sales ban on "As Nasty as They Wanna Be," the controversial album by the rap group 2 Live Crew.

The suit filed in Richland County Circuit Court asks for a prohibition on arrests for the sale of the album. It also asks that a judge decide whether the album is obscene.

Richland prosecutor Jim Anders, who in June threatened to prosecute those selling the album, is named as the defendant. Three record stores have joined the ACLU as plaintiffs, said Steve Bates, executive director for the South Carolina ACLU.

Anders welcomes the suit's request for a determination on whether the material is obscene, he said, adding, "I think it ought to apply statewide."

Joe Watson, prosecutor for Greenville and Pickens counties, has also threatened prosecution of stores who sell "Nasty."

Bates said the record "has significant literary, artistic and political values that reflect the African and Afro-American heritage of a large segment of our population."

He acknowledged that 2 Live Crew's use of raw and sometimes violent sexual imagery made it "tough to argue this."

By South Carolina standards, Anders said, the album is obscene. The ACLU is a group that wants "anything to go," he said.

A person found selling obscene material under state law could be subject to a maximum fine of $5,000 and five years' imprisonment.

The group has been at the center of a First Amendment-obscenity battle since June, when group members were arrested in Hollywood, Fla., after they performed songs from the album in a nightclub.

A federal judge in Florida declared the album obscene.

Sales of "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" have also been banned in the city of Aiken, and the city of Charleston in July kept a city-owned outlet from selling tickets to a 2 Live Crew performance at a private auditorium.