The lawsuit alleges a county in the Republican-led state is cracking down on access to books about race and LGBTQ identity.
A writers’ group and a book publisher in the United States have sued a school district in the southern state of Florida over attempts to limit the availability of books about race and LGBTQ identity in libraries.
The group PEN America and the Penguin Random House publishing house announced the lawsuit Wednesday, alleging that the Escambia County School District and its school board violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by removing 10 books on race and gender.
“In Escambia County, state censorship officials are pulling books from shelves in a deliberate effort to suppress various voices,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said in a statement. “In a nation built on freedom of speech, this cannot last.”
The lawsuit is the latest challenge to a series of conservative laws led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, some of which target gay and transgender people and critical perspectives on race in the US.
DeSantis, who is expected to challenge former President Donald Trump for the Republican US presidential nomination in 2024, has sought to bolster his right-wing credentials among conservative voters.
🧵PEN America is suing Florida School District for unconstitutional book ban
Lawsuit accompanied by @penguinrandomparents and authors allege that the Escambia County School Board is unlawfully removing or restricting access to books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities. pic.twitter.com/9FFps68Gd6
— PEN America (@PENamerica) May 17, 2023
On Wednesday, DeSantis signed into law laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth, restricting the use of gender-neutral pronouns in schools and forcing transgender youth to use bathrooms based on the gender they were assigned at birth.
The governor has also pushed for laws restricting access to books on topics such as LGBTQ rights and black history, positioning himself as a crusader against “wokeness,” a term used disparagingly by some Republicans to denote issues such as race, gender and describe sexuality.
Campaigns to restrict access to books on that subject are becoming more prevalent in Republican-led states across the country, and library groups say there will be a record number of attempts to ban books by 2022.
Democratic politicians have tried to capitalize on those efforts by portraying Republicans as extremists seeking to clamp down on ideas and lifestyles they disagree with.
“Across the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take those fundamental freedoms, cutting the Social Security you’ve paid all your life, while cutting taxes for the very rich, dictating what health care decisions can take wives, ban books, and tell people who to love,” Democratic President Joe Biden said in the April video launching his 2024 reelection campaign.
The abbreviation MAGA refers to Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement (MAGA).
A February 2022 CBS poll found that more than 80 percent of respondents disagree with efforts to restrict access to books that take a critical look at American history and discuss sensitive issues of race.
The Florida lawsuit says an art teacher objected to the books and asked that they be removed. A district committee set up to review the suitability of library books recommended keeping them in place, but was overruled by the district, which subsequently removed them.
The legal complaint alleges that in every decision Escambia County has made to remove a book, “the school district has sided with a challenger who openly expressed discriminatory” views.
So not only do those deletions violate First Amendment protections for free speech, but they also violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which prevents discrimination based on race, sex and sexual orientation, the lawsuit argues.
“The targeted book removals we are seeing in Escambia County are blatantly unconstitutional attempts to silence and stigmatize,” Nadine Farid Johnson, general manager of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs, said in Wednesday’s press release.
“Government should not promote proxy censorship, allowing one person to decide which ideas are off limits to everyone else.”