On Wednesday, January 10, 2024, a lawsuit against book bans in Escambia County, Florida, will have a hearing. Suing the district for violating First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights in its pulling of books from shelves are PEN America, Penguin Random House, and several authors whose books are among the banned.
This week, a list of 1,600 titles recently pulled from district shelves was released. Acquired by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, the list includes books which have been targeted by groups like Moms For Liberty and No Left Turn in Education, as well as hundreds of other books. The district removed the books, citing the new laws in Florida which ban schools from having books with “sexual conduct” in December 2023. The titles are “pending investigation” and unavailable to students and staff in the meantime. While those on the far right do not call the removal of books from shelves a “book ban,” the inability to access the books from where they belong is, by definition, a ban.
This removal is not the district’s first.
Among the titles pulled from Escambia under the law include five different dictionaries–Webster’s Dictionary & Thesaurus for Students, The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary, The Dictionary of Costume, The Clear and Simple Thesaurus Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary. There are five annual editions of the Guinness Book of World Records include, eight different encyclopedias, three editions of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, as well as books like 100 Bible Stories, The Bible Book, and biographies of people ranging from Beyoncé to Lady Gaga, Thurgood Marshall to Oprah.
Students in Escambia County cannot access books like The Teen Vogue Handbook: An Insider’s Guide to Careers in Fashion in their school, nor can they borrow books about Greek and Roman myths. Books meant to help understanding sexual assault, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections are off the shelf, as are Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
This week’s hearing is expected to garner significant interest. A judge decided last week that the state’s Attorney General, Ashley Moody, will be allowed to participate. Moody’s office is in support of Escambia Schools removal of titles, noting that the board’s actions were not subject to First Amendment scrutiny because those actions were “government speech.”