The Volokh Conspiracy

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New Lawsuit Against Florida Public School Library Book Bans

Allegations include violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments


I just received word that the PEN American Center as well as several book authors, publishers, and parents of children attending public school in Escambia County (Florida) have filed a lawsuit related to public school library book bans. The complaint can be found on Protect Democracy's website here.

The lawsuit alleges that the Escambia County School District and School Board removed and restricted books from public school libraries "based on their disagreement with the ideas expressed in those books." It further alleges that 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" and that "[t]hese 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."

One of the banned books is the award-winning And Tango Makes Three, a picture book depicting the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin named Tango for whom the mother couldn't care. The book's challenger successfully asserted when arguing for removal that the book served an "LGBTQ agenda using penguins."

The complaint at bar alleges that the book bans constitute viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment. It also argues that the First Amendment right to receive information and ideas "is violated when a school district or school board removes or restricts access to library books in a narrowly partisan or political manner, and for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the school district or school board disagrees" (internal quotation marks and emphasis removed). Last, the complaint states that the "removal efforts at issue are based on discriminatory animus in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The plaintiffs are represented by Protect Democracy and Ballard Spahr. Let's see if Florida can keep children safe from co-parenting male penguins!