By Monica Smith
Florida has become a hotbed of far-right legislation. Since 2018, the state has introduced a wide range of discriminatory policies that aim to punish minority groups. These bills have become a blueprint for Christian Nationalists throughout the country to try to pass in other states.
One of their biggest battlefields is public education, and Christian Nationalists are actively succeeding in completely altering the education system in Florida. One of the latest attacks has been on school libraries, which have been targeted fiercely by book bans.
Attacks On Books Escalate
The assault began in March of 2022 when legislation known as HB 1467 was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). The bill created new guidelines that have made it far easier to ban books in schools. Proponents said it would address explicit content such as pornography; however, this was already banned in schools. Instead, the bill is being used to remove LGBTQ+ and African American history from schools. It now takes just one complaint of something being “inappropriate” for a book to be pulled from a school or even from an entire county system. This is a narrative that Christian Nationalists around the country have pushed, and in Florida, they are succeeding in getting inclusive content removed.
In Duval County alone, where I live, approximately 176 books have already been removed from classrooms since the bill was passed. The Duval County Public School system and far-right legislators claim that the removed books are not banned but are only under review. However, until books are approved by a school media specialist, they must be taken out of classrooms, which is essentially a ban. Furthermore, the process for a book to be approved can take time, since a school media specialist must individually read and sign off on each book. In many Florida districts, these positions are severely understaffed, which lengthens the delays.
In addition, there are no clear guidelines in place for specialists to follow, which means the status of a book can vary wildly between school districts and counties. The fate of a book falls on schools’ media specialists and their interpretation of what is appropriate for children.
LGBTQ-Themed Books Targeted
The bulk of these bans target the LGBTQ+ community, with several books that simply include or depict queer relationships being the sole reason books were removed. LGBTQ+ literature is being labeled as inappropriate for children, which correlates with the rise in LGBTQ+ violence in the state. Instead of helping kids, these book bans harm them; young people deserve to see themselves reflected in a library’s books.
African American history is also being targeted. Books that depict civil rights activists, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., have been removed from schools. Children’s books that depict the civil rights movement already are edited to present the history in a digestible format for young children to understand. Under the new laws, this crucial history is being reimagined as actively harmful for kids to learn about, and as a result, that history is simply being removed from school libraries. Books that depict Asian American, Native American, Latinx American and other minority experiences are also being banned or are sitting in review throughout the state.
The spate of book banning comes at a challenging time for Florida’s education system. The state was already dealing with an education crisis due to COVID-19, and the bans only exist to widen the education gap in Florida. The state continues to rank lower nationwide in reading and math abilities. Genuine education reforms are being ignored as the state focuses on removing minority voices from education. The results could take years to play out, but Florida’s current path, which emphasizes indoctrination over education, does a disservice to its kids.
Fighting Back Against Censorship
Several organizations are working to combat these book bans, including the American Library Association, which tracks which books have been banned nationally, EveryLibrary, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Urban League. Local bookstores are also protesting the bans by creating displays of targeted books and actively hosting community events to connect children with these titles.
Since its founding more than 75 years ago, Americans United has opposed religiously based censorship. AU believes that young people in Florida, and every state, should have the right to read and learn without interference from Christian Nationalists who fear knowledge, inclusion and progress.
Monica Smith is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship.