Public Schools

Florida’s book bans might meet their match in court

  Rob Boston

Earlier this month, Monica Smith, a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship, highlighted the problem of book bans in Florida’s public schools.

Indeed, the situation is dire. A 2022 law requires that a book be pulled from school library shelves if even one complaint is lodged against it. In Duval County, this has led to 176 books being yanked while under review.

In the Florida panhandle, the situation is just as bad. One woman, Vicki Baggett, a language arts teacher at Northview High School, has gone on a tear and challenged dozens of books, many of which Baggett admits she hasn’t read. As a result, the books have either been removed outright or placed on restricted access.

Parents are fighting book banning in court

Parents who support the right to read are fighting back in federal court, and they have some impressive legal firepower behind them. Penguin Random House, the largest publishing firm in America, has joined forces with PEN America, a group that advocates for free expression, to represent two parents in Escambia County who oppose the book bans. Five authors whose books have been removed or placed on restricted access have also joined the lawsuit.

Not surprisingly, the targeted books tend to feature LGBTQ characters or themes (although others deal with racial issues). These titles are often singled out because they offend Christian Nationalists. A good example is And Tango Makes Three, a 2005 children’s book that’s based on a true story about two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo that pair-bonded and raised a chick together. The New York Times reported that Baggett insisted that the award-winning book is “serving an L.G.B.T.Q. agenda using penguins.”

Banners’ focus on LGBTQ- & race-themed books ‘is no accident’

The Escambia lawsuit notes that the emphasis on LGBTQ-themed books and titles that deal with race “is no accident” and adds, “The clear agenda behind the campaign to remove the books is to categorically remove all discussion of racial discrimination or LGBTQ issues from public school libraries. Government action may not be premised on such discriminatory motivations.”

Thanks to the 2022 law, Florida is awash in book bans. But the problem isn’t limited to that state. The American Library Association reports that challenges to books are at an all-time high nationwide.

Many of these bans are spearheaded by people who believe their narrow (and frankly, often hate-based) religious perspective should be the yardstick that determines what everyone else reads, sees and experiences.

It’s high time parents, authors and publishers stood up to this. More power to their efforts.

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