Public Schools

DeSantis tweaks Florida’s book ban law. It’s still horrible.

  Rob Boston

Prodded by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), legislators in Florida two years ago passed a dangerous and misguided bill that encouraged just about anyone in the state to demand that books be removed from public school libraries.

To no one’s surprise, the law, which DeSantis happily signed in a public ceremony, turned out to be a disaster, and now DeSantis has had to sign new legislation limiting its effects. Of course, DeSantis insists that none of this is his fault – but it is.

Let’s back up a bit. Two years ago, DeSantis was preparing to seek the Republican presidential nomination and was eager to play to social conservatives in the GOP, hence the big splash he made when he signed the bill. The censorship bill, as originally written, allowed anyone in the state to challenge any book in any public school. You didn’t have to have kids in public schools. You didn’t have to reside in the district. You didn’t have to be a taxpayer.

Books pulled from shelves

Once a complaint was filed, the targeted book had to be removed from school library shelves until the school district resolved the complaint. (Despite DeSantis’ claims to the contrary, scads of books were banned in Florida public schools.)

The law was a weapon for Christian Nationalist groups like Moms for Liberty, which immediately went on a tear targeting books with LGBTQ+ and “woke” themes. (To Christian Nationalists, “woke” is anything in a book they don’t like.) As a result, Florida has been “responsible for 3,135 of the 4,349 school book bans in the United States so far this school year,” ABC News reported, citing data from PEN America.

But here’s the thing: When you create a weapon this powerful, others will seek to use it. Sure enough, an activist named Chaz Stevens began challenging Bibles, dictionaries and thesauruses in school districts across the state. Stevens, a longtime provocateur, was trying to make a not-very-subtle point, and DeSantis, whose presidential ambitions flamed out months ago, suddenly got worked up and demanded that the law be tweaked.

Still a bad law

The new law won’t do anything to stop Moms for Liberty, Instead, it attempts to deal with people like Stevens, who does not have children in the state’s public schools, by limiting them to one book challenge per month.

Make no mistake, it’s still a foolish law. It will continue to spawn chaos and embolden the book banning brigades of Christian Nationalism. It will keep on doing violence to the very idea of the freedom to learn.

It is a profoundly anti-freedom, un-American measure. Rather than nibble around the edges, Florida needs to ditch it.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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