Florida Bill Would Make Banning Books Easier

Florida State Representative Mike Hill filed HB 855 back in February that would make the censorship and banning of books in schools easier and put the careers and lives of those who make those books readily available for children in jeopardy.

The bill, which Hill says is necessary to “remove pornography out of our public schools,” would prohibit school employees, including teachers and librarians, from providing material that would be “harmful to students” or depict sex.

HB 855 also requires that schools notify parents and seek their written permission to teach sex education.

According to the bill: “”Harmful to minors” means any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever kind or form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it: (a) Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest; (b) Is patently offensive with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and (c) Depicts an image or text that meets the definition of “deviate sexual intercourse.” The term “harmful to minors” does not include materials used in a formal, scheduled sex education course.”

It continues: “Subsections (3) and (5) of section 847.012, Florida Statutes, are amended, and subsection (6) of that section is republished, to read: 847.012 Harmful materials; sale or distribution to minors or using minors in production prohibited; penalty.— (3) A person, including a public school employee or volunteer, may not knowingly sell, rent, or loan to a minor: (a) Any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, videocassette, or similar visual representation or image of a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors; or (b) Any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter however reproduced, or sound recording that contains any matter defined in s. 847.001, explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, or sexual conduct An adult may not knowingly distribute to a minor on 109 school property, or post on school property, any material 110 described in subsection (3). As used in this subsection, the term “school property” means the grounds or facility of any kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, junior high school, or secondary school, whether public or nonpublic. This subsection does not apply to the distribution or posting of school-approved instructional materials that by design serve as a major tool for assisting in the instruction of a sex education subject or course by school officers, instructional personnel, administrative personnel, school volunteers, educational support employees, or managers as those terms are defined in s. 1012.01. (6) Any person violating any provision of this section commits a felony of the third degree.”

In other words, books deemed to highlight sex or sexuality outside of a pre-parental-approved sexual education course on a school campus would not be allowed and those who permit such books would be subject to a third-degree felony.

The bill, which you can read in full here, continues by noting that any book used in the schools that falls under the prohibited categories above is simply unacceptable.

The Florida Senate has a companion bill on the floor, too, put forth by Senator Debbie Mayfield, which you can read here.

This bill comes because of concerns from the Florida Citizens Alliance, which has a history of attempted censorship in Florida schools. What makes this particular bill more terrifying for educators and librarians in the state is that it’s not just parents who’d be empowered to recall a book — any citizen could step forward, deeming a book “unacceptable,” putting not only educators and librarians at risk, but the entire system of education itself. The Florida Citizens Alliance has been known to speak up against climate change, charging science textbooks used in the classroom promote it, and they’ve had a history of challenging a variety of texts throughout various counties in the state that they believe to be hindering a Christian agenda (this group has called explicitly for Religious education in the classroom), and/or are infused with “pornographic” content.

To be clear: the definitions provided in this bill would ensure that books discussing sexual assault, books that educate healthy sexuality, and especially those which discuss non-heteronormative sex or sexuality would be deemed “pornographic.”

Books on the chopping block if this bill passes include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and hundreds of other novels and textbooks.

Florida citizens: call and write to your senators and your representatives. This bill, were it to pass, would not only allow for undue censorship, but would put your public school systems at tremendous risk for one-sided education and further deplete an already overburdened resource — excellent teachers and librarians.

Find your representatives here and your senators here.

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Kelly Jensen: Kelly is a former teen and adult librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Twitter @veronikellymars.