PEN and PRH Sue Over Book Bans

Writing organization PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, authors, and parents have filed a lawsuit against the Escambia County School District and school board in Florida, arguing that recent book bans their violate the First Amendment. The plaintiffs seek to have the removed books returned to library shelves.

The plaintiff statement 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.

The majority of restricted books reportedly discuss “race, racism, and LGBTQ identities,” and were banned “against the recommendations of the district review committee charged with evaluating book challenges.” The plaintiffs say this violates the First Amendment: “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.” The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants “are violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution because the books being singled out are disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors, and often address themes or topics related to race or LGBTQ identity.”

The authors and illustrators involved in the suit have had their books removed or restricted, and include David Levithan and Kyle Lukoff.

The plaintiffs are represented in the lawsuit by Ballard Spahr LLP and Protect Democracy. The suit was filed in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola, and names Escambia County in particular because it “epitomizes the censorship efforts in Florida that are being mimicked in school districts across the country,” with almost 200 titles targeted in the past year.

The full complaint may be read here.

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