Washington (AFP) – Publisher Penguin Random House and the writers’ group PEN America filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a Florida school district over the removal of books from public school libraries that address race and LGBTQ issues.
The book removals are unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, according to the suit against the Escambia County School District and the school board.
“Books are being ordered removed from libraries, or subject to restricted access within those libraries, based on an ideologically driven campaign to push certain ideas out of schools,” the complaint said.
“These restrictions and removals have disproportionately targeted books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ people,” it added.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has been a driving force behind a campaign in the southern state to restrict children’s access to certain books.
Florida has been a leading battleground in the so-called “culture wars” in the United States and scores of books have been removed from library shelves in recent months, deemed inappropriate for children by conservative parents and school boards.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, denounced the book removals in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous,” Nossel said. “In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices.
“In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand.”
Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, said “books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives.
“We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression.”
Several authors who have had their books removed joined the lawsuit along with the parents of children who attend schools in Escambia County.
According to the lawsuit, at least two books published by Penguin Random House — “The Bluest Eye” by Nobel Literature Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and “Push” by Sapphire — have been removed from some school district libraries and others are being targeted.
They include “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan and “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut.
According to PEN America, 1,648 unique book titles were banned in 32 states during the 2021-22 school year, with the most occurring in Florida and Texas.