State backs Escambia board in book restriction lawsuit

The suit alleges the Escambia school board violated First Amendment rights by disproportionately targeting books about racial minorities and LGBTQ people.

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  • | 2:00 p.m. August 24, 2023
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The state of Florida has filed a brief backing the Escambia County School Board in a lawsuit about the removal or restriction of books in school libraries, saying plaintiffs “have no constitutional right to inculcate Florida’s schoolchildren with their preferred ideas through Florida’s school libraries.” 

The friend-of-the-court brief, filed Tuesday, Aug. 22, in federal court in Pensacola, urged dismissal of the lawsuit filed by five authors, the publishing company Penguin Random House, parents of schoolchildren and the free-speech group PEN America. 

The lawsuit alleges the Escambia school board has violated First Amendment and equal-protection rights through the removal or restriction of library books and has disproportionately targeted books about racial minorities and LGBTQ people.

In the brief Tuesday, however, lawyers in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office disputed the constitutional arguments, saying “school libraries are a forum for government, not private,” speech. 

“The restrictions, plaintiffs say, violate the First Amendment because the government may not restrict access to materials ‘based on viewpoint’ or ‘deny students access to ideas with which’ the ‘school board disagrees,’” the brief said. “But public-school systems make value-based judgments like that every day. They exclude materials like Nazi propaganda because they disagree that Nazis were wonderful, regardless of any educational value the materials may have.” 

The Escambia school board filed a motion to dismiss the case Monday. The lawsuit details a series of examples of the school board removing or restricting library books after receiving complaints — with the board, at least in some cases, going against the recommendations of review committees. 

The lawsuit said the “First Amendment bars a school district from removing books from school libraries, or restricting access to such books, based on political or ideological disagreement with the ideas they express. 

Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit because that is exactly what is happening in Escambia County. Books are being ordered removed from libraries, or subject to restricted access within those libraries, based on ideologically-driven efforts to push certain ideas out of schools.”


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