- 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.