Largest publisher in America, writers’ group file lawsuit against Escambia County over “book bans”

by | May 17, 2023

  • Penguin Random House, PEN America, authors, and parents filed a federal lawsuit against Escambia County School District over the removal of books from school libraries.
  • The lawsuit argues that the school district violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by removing books discussing race, racism, and LGBTQ identities, limiting free speech and expression.
  • The plaintiffs claim that the removal of books disproportionately targeted non-white and LGBTQ authors and violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The largest book publisher in the country, Penguin Random House, along with free expression advocacy group PEN America and a conglomeration of authors and parents, filed a lawsuit against the Escambia County School District regarding the removal of books from school libraries.

The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday morning in a Pensacola district court, contends that the school district violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments under the assertion that “books are being ordered removed from libraries … based on an ideologically driven campaign to push certain ideas out of schools.”

More specifically, the lawsuit claims that the school board’s removal and restriction of access to books discussing race, racism, and LGBTQ identities, against the recommendations of the district review committee charged with evaluating book challenges, restricts free speech and free expression of students and teachers.

The lawsuit maintains that the removal of a series of books by the school district and school board also violated the Equal Protection Clause because the material being singled out is “disproportionately books by non-white and LGBTQ authors, or which address topics related to race or LGBTQ identity.”

“In every decision to remove a book, the School District has sided with a challenger expressing openly discriminatory bases for challenge, overruling the recommendations of review committees at the school and district levels,” reads the suit. “These restrictions and removals have disproportionately targeted books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ people, and have prescribed an orthodoxy of opinion that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The School District removed the books under new curriculum guidelines imposed under the Parental Rights in Education bill, which limits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in K-3 classrooms. The measure served as a chief policy priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis during the 2022 legislative session, with secondary legislation that expanded provisions within the original bill being signed into law earlier this year.

The bill, branded the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by critics, sparked national attention and outrage among many on the political left, becoming one of the biggest ‘culture war’ issues in Florida’s 2022 Legislative Session. Contending that the law harms children and teachers, a collection of attorneys general in fifteen states and Washington D.C. filed an amicus brief last May in support of the Equality Florida v. Florida State Board of Education lawsuit that sought to see the law struck down.

Within the ambit of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the Parental Rights legislation pertains solely to classroom instruction and not to library materials. Consequentially, they contend that the book restriction cannot be enforced according to the state statute.

DeSantis — who was not named in Wednesday’s lawsuit — has repeatedly pushed back against reports that school districts are engaging in widespread book bans, referring to the notion as a ‘hoax.’

“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is important because it reveals that some are attempting to use our schools for indoctrination,” said DeSantis. “In Florida, pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards. Florida is the education state and that means providing students with a quality education free from sexualization and harmful materials that are not age appropriate.”

“Education is about the pursuit of truth, not woke indoctrination,” added Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr.

The Capitolist attempted to reach the Escambia County School District for comment but did not receive an immediate response. 


  1. Adherbal De Souza Neto

    Excellent! The Governor has become a dictator. We need to act fast. The creation of a law so he can remain in office while pursuing the Presidency. God save us all from this Tyrant! A law has recently passed and was signed by De Santis evoking evidence based practice (EBP) related to allowing physicians and health care providers the freedom to not care for people who are part of communities they have cultural or moral reservations against. When one becomes a health care provider, one takes care of whomever that patient is. We cannot discriminate. We cannot divide. What kind of leader is this? Discriminating in any business is wrong. Health care is a necessity to all. What is going on with our Florida? I so regret having voted to a wolf in sheep’s clothes! Wake up Florida!

  2. TroySchoonover

    As an Escambia County resident, I am proud of the work our School Board has done to remove books from the classroom that do not belong. The books in question are primarily focused on removing discussion of sexual issues, especially in the younger grades. And the review committee is an absolute joke! They will approve anything because the standard is simply if they can find any educational value whatsoever. The School Board had to step in or everything, including very sexually graphic material was going to stay on the shelves. However, parents here also now have the opportunity to sign waivers to allow their children to access certain book sections. I don’t see this lawsuit going anywhere. Sounds like whining to me!

  3. John

    Banning books is what dictators do. Republicans are going to learn a hard lesson as they continue their assault on democracy. As we saw yesterday in Jacksonville, we will through you out of office.

  4. David Mahoney

    All these radical liberals are really struggling with the fact that an elected official is actually doing what the people want. They’re not familiar with this type of behavior because the officials elected by Democrats push their own very radical agenda regardless of what the people want. The Democrats I know do not support all this radical behavior, but their elected officials, using the left-leaning media outlets, would have you believe that this is what all Democrats want. It’s simply not true. Thank you Ron DeSantis for listening to the people.

    • MH/Duuuval

      Looks like Ron is modeling himself after the ayatollahs, Putin, and other dictators of the past; the Iranian leaderships practice frequent executions and Putin — amongst his many crimes — is persecuting LGBTQ. The book banning is straight out of Nazi Germany, moderated by our deeply rooted puritanism.

  5. Anonymous

    They’re not violating any rights. These books are not educational books that were banned. These books can be read “outside” of school. This crap is not educational – it’s propaganda & indoctrination. They must be kept out of schools.

  6. Bill

    This is a very important story about the right to freely express one’s ideas. It is unacceptable for any government or other entity to ban books for any purpose, and this lawsuit highlights the issue very well. We must always protect freedom of expression and protect the right of individuals to access information without fear of censorship.

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