Florida School District Faces Lawsuit Over Removal of Books on Race and LGBTQ+ Identities, Judge Rules

PENSACOLA, Fla. – A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit can proceed against a Florida Panhandle school district for removing books about race and LGBTQ+ identities from library shelves. U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell II, based in Pensacola, made the ruling on Wednesday, granting standing to the writers’ group PEN America, publisher Penguin Random House, banned authors, and parents to pursue their claims under the First Amendment’s free speech protections. However, the judge denied a claim under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

“We are gratified that the Judge recognized that books cannot be removed from school library shelves simply because of the views they espouse, and are looking forward to moving forward with this case to protect the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs,” said attorney Lynn Oberlander.

The lawsuit alleges that the Escambia County School District and its School Board are violating the First Amendment by removing 10 books from their libraries. PEN America, an organization that advocates for literary freedoms and includes authors whose books have been removed or restricted in the district, supports the lawsuit. Penguin Random House, a major publisher, has also had books removed or restricted by the district.

According to the lawsuit, the removals were prompted by objections from one language arts teacher in the county. In each case, the school board voted to remove the books despite recommendations from a district review committee that deemed them educationally suitable. The teacher’s objections appear to rely on materials compiled by a website that labels books ideologically unsuitable for children.

Some of the books that were removed include “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The Nowhere Girls” by Amy Reed, and “Lucky” by Alice Sebold. The lawsuit also states that over 150 additional books are currently under review by the school board.

The Escambia County School District has not yet responded to a request for comment from their attorneys.

It is important to note that the lawsuit does not name Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant, even though he has advocated for policies that allow the censorship and challenging of books in schools based on their appropriateness for children. DeSantis, who is running for president, has emphasized cultural divides on race, sexual orientation, and gender to appeal to conservative voters in the Republican primaries.

In summary, a federal judge has allowed a lawsuit to move forward against a Florida school district for removing books about race and LGBTQ+ identities from library shelves. The judge’s ruling grants the plaintiffs standing under the First Amendment but denies their claim under the Equal Protection Clause. The lawsuit alleges that the removals violate free speech rights and highlights the influence of objections from one teacher and a website that deems books ideologically unsuitable for children. The case has drawn attention to the ongoing conversation about book censorship in schools.