Banned Books Week display
Banned Books Week display. Photo credit: CCAC North Library / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Florida is at the forefront of book bans and censorship in schools. Now, a diverse group of free speech advocates, authors, parents, and a publishing company is fighting back.

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“Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance,” former President Lyndon B. Johnson said shortly after taking office. Almost 60 years later, this quote perhaps explains best why the US is experiencing a surge of book bans and other forms of censorship in schools — primarily in red states.

Now, a diverse coalition of free speech advocates, authors, parents, and the country’s largest publishing company is doing something about it.

In a lawsuit filed today, these plaintiffs argue that Florida’s Escambia County School District and School Board are violating the First Amendment by banning books that express certain ideas.

The lawsuit also alleges that the county is violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by disproportionately targeting the works of nonwhite and/or LGBTQ authors.

“Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of the free expression organization PEN America.

PEN brought the lawsuit along with the publishing company Penguin Random House — whose authors’ books have been targeted — and parents whose children are impacted by the county’s censorship.

“In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices,” Nossel added. “In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand. The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong.”

Florida, along with Texas, has become ground zero for book bans and censorship. Under the guise of fighting “wokeness,” the state’s Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been on a crusade to dictate what can be taught in Florida, and how — especially when it comes to topics such as racism and LGBTQ issues.

“Young readers in Escambia schools and across the nation deserve a complete and honest education, one that provides them with full access in libraries to a wide range of literature that reflects varied viewpoints and that explores the diversity of human experiences,” said Ashley Hope Pérez. She is the author of one of the books targeted by the school district. Her novel Out of Darkness deals with the topic of interracial romance in Texas in the 1930s.

Other writers who joined the lawsuit include Sarah Brannen, an author and children’s book illustrator, children’s book author Kyle Lukoff, and young adult fiction author David Levithan.

Multibillion-dollar publishing company Penguin Random House is adding some corporate muscle to the suit.

“Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights,” said the company’s CEO Nihar Malaviya. “We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression.”


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