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The banning of books in a district of Florida has come closer to being tested in court after free expression organization PEN America, alongside Penguin Random House, authors, and parents of children affected by the unconstitutional book bans carried out by Florida’s Escambia County School District and School Board filed suit in federal court asking for books to be returned to school library shelves where they belong.
PEN America says: “Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and expressing a diversity of viewpoints supports a core function of public education, preparing students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens. In contravention of these basic principles, the lawsuit alleges, Escambia County has set out to exclude certain ideas from their school libraries by removing or restricting books, some of which have been on the shelves for years—even decades. This lawsuit brings together authors whose books have been banned, parents and students in the district who cannot access the books, and a publisher in a first-of-its-kind challenge to unlawful censorship.”
According to the lawsuit, the school board’s removal and restriction of access to books discussing race, racism, and LGBTQ identities, against the recommendations of the district review committee charged with evaluating book challenges, violates the First Amendment, which ‘prohibits any law limiting freedom with respect to religion, expression, peaceful assembly, or the right of citizens to petition the government’.
By ignoring these recommendations, the school district made clear that its interests are in censoring certain ideas and viewpoints, not pedagogy, and that it is willing to allow an extremist minority to substitute its political agenda for the judgment of educators and parents.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America said: “Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution. In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices. In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand. The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong.”
Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, said: “Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights. We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression. We are proud to join forces with our long-time partner PEN America.”
The authors involved in the suit, all of whom have either already had their books removed by the district and/or restricted from student access, include author and children’s book illustrator Sarah Brannen, young adult fiction authors David Levithan, George M. Johnson and Ashley Hope Pérez, and children’s book author Kyle Lukoff.