A federal judge Wednesday cleared the way for a First Amendment challenge to decisions by the Escambia County School Board to remove or restrict access to school library books.
U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell rejected motions to dismiss First Amendment claims in the lawsuit filed in May by seven parents of schoolchildren, five authors, the publishing company Penguin Random House and the free-speech group PEN America, according to a document posted on the court docket.
The plaintiffs also alleged violations of equal-protection rights, but Wetherell dismissed that claim. Attorneys for the school board argued Wetherell should dismiss the case for a series of reasons, including that plaintiffs did not have legal standing and the board has authority to decide which books to purchase and keep on school shelves.
The lawsuit involves the removal of 10 books and restrictions on access to more than 150 others, according to an earlier court document filed by the plaintiffs. Examples include, “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and the book “And Tango Makes Three,” which tells the story of two male penguins who raised a penguin chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo.
The case is playing out amid wide-ranging debates in Florida and other states about school officials removing or restricting access to books.
On Tuesday, PEN America published an update to the book-banning in Escambia County: “Five dictionaries are on the district’s list of more than 1,600 books banned pending investigation in December 2023, along with eight different encyclopedias, The Guinness Book of World Records, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not – all due to fears they violate the state’s new laws banning materials with “sexual conduct” from schools.
“Biographies of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj, and Thurgood Marshall are on the list, alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Black Panther comics by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Feminism Book was banned along with The Teen Vogue Handbook: An Insider’s Guide to Careers in Fashion.
“The list obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project also includes Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. The Princess Diaries and 14 other books by Meg Cabot have been taken from libraries, alongside books by David Baldacci, Lee Child, Michael Crichton, Carl Hiassen, Jonathan Franzen, John Green, John Grisham, Stephen King (23 of them), Dean Koontz, Cormac McCarthy, Celeste Ng, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, and Nicholas Sparks. Conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly’s two books, Killing Jesus and Killing Reagan, were also banned pending investigation.”
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLivepen-america-v.escambia-schools-book-bans