Federal judge rules book ban lawsuit against Florida school can move forward

U.S. District Judge Kent Wetherell ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit against a Florida school over the removal of books from shelves can move forward, a victory for those who have raised alarms about book bans in schools.

PEN America, a free speech organization, Penguin Random House and authors and parents affected by the ban first sued the Escambia County School Board in May after the school pulled hundreds of books from its shelves for examination.

The plaintiffs say the removals violated the First Amendment because the books were removed “based on ideological objections to their content or disagreement with their messages or themes,” as well as the Equal Protection Clause “because the books singled out for possible removal would be disproportionately heavy. books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors, or that address topics related to race or LGBTQ identity.”

The school claims that all books are not banned, but merely withdrawn for review to ensure they comply with Florida state law.

Wetherell said PEN America was in favor of continuing the lawsuit under the First Amendment, which would set up the next phase of the legal battle.

“Today we urged the court to uphold the constitutional rights of students, parents, authors and publishers. We are encouraged that Judge Wetherell agreed and that our case can proceed. These books need to be put back on the shelves where they belong, and every day students are denied access is a day they don’t get the high-quality education they deserve,” said Katie Blankenship, Florida director of PEN America.

“This case goes to the core of who we are as a country, and for the sake of our children and the future of our democracy, it is critical that we adhere to the language of the First Amendment and the precedents of our federal courts, she added.

PEN America said that since the lawsuit was filed, more than 1,600 books in the school district have been investigated for possible bans.

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