Florida school libraries should ‘convey the government’s message,’ says state Attorney General

Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Giselle Balido

December 6, 2023

The Republican ally of Gov. DeSantis claims that the state has the right to remove books that it disapproves of from public-school shelves.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody compared efforts to ban LGBTQ books from state school libraries to protecting children from “Nazi propaganda,” while claiming that Florida’s public-school libraries should “convey the government’s message,”and are “a forum for government speech,” but “not a forum for free expression.” 

Moody made these statements in a startling legal filing earlier this year, in which she argued that the purpose of public-school libraries is to present the government’s ideologies, even when it has to be accomplished through “the removal of speech that the government disapproves.” 

“Florida’s public-school libraries are a forum for government, not private, speech,” the Republican wrote in her brief. “And when the government speaks, it can freely select the views that it wants to express, including […] speaking through the removal of speech that the government disapproves of.”

RELATED: Florida Leads the Nation in Book Bans Under DeSantis’ Leadership

Moody’s argument came in response to a pair of lawsuits that have been filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida over the removal of books in Escambia and Lake counties’ school libraries. 

In one of the lawsuits, the state was sued by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the authors of “And Tango Makes Three,” the true story of two male penguins raising a chick together. The book was removed in both districts. Lake County’s school board returned the book to school library shelves; Escambia County’s did not.

The other case was filed against Escambia County’s school board by PEN America and Penguin Random House, the nation’s largest publisher, along with several authors and parents of students. 

The lawsuits accuse the defendants of violating students’ First Amendment rights by denying access to materials deemed objectionable. The defendants, however, echo the Attorney General’s claim that school library content decisions can’t infringe on the First Amendment.

If the courts agree, “it would upend 100 years of established First Amendment precedent,” Peter Bromberg, the associate director of EveryLibrary, an anti-book banning organization, told USA Today. 

RELATED: Two People Filed Over Half of the 1,100 Book Complaints in Florida Schools

Moody’s brief flies in the face of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-majority Legislature’s claim that the notion that books are being banned in the state is nothing more than “a hoax” perpetrated by people trying to indoctrinate children.

In fact, with 1,406 bans reported across the state during the 2022-23 school year, Florida accounts for 40% of the nationwide total of book bans, according to PEN America.

A fighting chance

Calling what is taking place in Florida “loud and clear attempts by far-right conservative leaders to silence and erase our Black, brown, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ communities,” Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (FL-10) on Tuesday introduced the Fight Book Bans Act, a bill that aims to take a tough stand against censorship in school districts. The legislation already has the support of 50 members of Congress

The Fight Book Bans Act would enable the Department of Education to provide grants to school districts to cover expenses to fight book bans, including the cost of retaining legal representation and obtaining expert research.

“Book bans in Florida and in states across the nation are a direct attack on our freedoms and liberties everywhere. As my home state shamefully leads the country in book bans, we cannot let this censorship and dismantling of our education system go unchecked,” Rep. Frost said, adding that students should not suffer the consequences of radical politics in the classroom. 

“This is about protecting our libraries and protecting truth and history.”

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | EDUCATION

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