Q.  Book banning has been around for a long time.  As far back as the Civil War, there were attempts by the South to whitewash history.  Eighty years ago, Catcher in the Rye was condemned for profanity, and more recently Harry Potter for wizardry. The latest target is the LGBTQ community.  How does this kind of censorship affect first amendment rights?

Currently communities in 37 states have banned over 1,600 books from their schools and libraries and demands for censorship reached a 20 year high in 2022 (twice as high as in 2021)

Q.  In addition to book banning, black history is also being systematically erased in certain states. How is this being carried out?

The Moms for Liberty started with 3 Florida moms fighting Covid-19 restrictions in 2021.  They advocate for school choice and the “fundamental rights of parents” to direct their children’s education.  Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and the conservative Heritage Foundation have embraced this movement while others like the Southern Poverty Law Center call Moms for Liberty a racist anti-LGBTQ organization that spreads misinformation and aims to eradicate diverse and inclusive materials from school lesson plans.  Moms for Liberty is seeking to take over school boards and influence school superintendent elections in multiple states.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s Stop Woke Law limits students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender. The bill authorizes discussion of topics such as sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, in an age-appropriate manner, and in such a way that does not indoctrinate or persuade students to a certain point of view that is inconsistent with the principles of individual freedom and bans the teaching of anything that made students in public schools feel “shamed because of their race.”  Concepts that constitute unlawful discrimination include:

  • That members of one race, color, national origin or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin or sex.
  • A person by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
  • A person’s moral character or status as privileged or oppressed is determined by race, color, national origin or sex.
  • A person, by virtue of their race, color, national origin or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.
  • The bill also requires instruction, instructional materials, and professional development in public schools to adhere to principles of individual freedom outlined in the bill. Those principles include that no person is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive just by virtue of his or her race or sex and meritocracy or hard work ethic are not racist but fundamental to the right to pursue success.

Florida blocked a new Advanced Placement class on African American studies from Florida high schools and K-12 schools have had to comb their textbooks and curriculum for any evidence of Critical Race Theory and a new Florida law puts guardrails on lessons about racism and oppression.

In Arkansas, a law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” material to minors was temporarily blocked when a U.S. District Judge issued a preliminary injunction against the law.  The law also creates a process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible to children.

Q.  What’s being done to protect public access to “woke” (which stands for aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially racial and social justice) points of view?

The American Library Association is fighting back to address book censorship and protecting library users’ intellectual freedom and protect librarians’ ability to provide information to their communities. First Amendment advocacy organization National Coalition Against Censorship says that parents always have the right to choose what their children read, but they don’t have the right to restrict access for the whole community.  Illinois recently enacted a law to penalize libraries that ban books, making it the first state to outlaw book bans.  Effective January 1, 2024, Illinois public libraries that restrict or ban materials because of “partisan” or “doctrinal” disapproval will be ineligible for state funding.

Q.  Florida Gov. Ron De Santis wants to put a positive spin on the history of slavery in this country by saying that slaves benefited from learning skills, akin to a workforce training program.

Florida’s Department of Education recently approved a new curriculum for the African-American Studies program in public schools which instructs students on the personal benefit of slavery to Black people.  “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” said DeSantis.

Q.  There is another group that Florida is targeting – the LGBTQ community.  What is the Parental Rights in Education Act also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law that was passed in 2022?

The law prohibits Florida public schools from having “classroom discussion” or giving “classroom instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.  It also prohibits public schools from keeping information about a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity from their parents. If parents have personal objections to teachings in these areas, they can file a lawsuit and the public schools are required to pay for all the expenses of the lawsuits.  In April 2023, the Florida Board of Education expanded the ban on teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to all grades K-12 except in health or reproductive courses.  A subsequent law passed in Florida requires that sex education classes teach that “sex is determined by biology and reproductive function at birth”, and that reproductive gender roles are “binary, stable, and unchangeable.”  Legislatures in at least 20 other states have introduced Parental Rights in Education bills similar to Florida’s.

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Disclaimer:  this material is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  The law varies by jurisdiction and is constantly changing.  For legal advice, you should consult a lawyer that can apply the appropriate law to the facts in your case.