By Ashlyn Petro
On Wednesday, May 17, 2023, PEN America, a non-profit organization protecting free expression through a focus on literature and human rights; Penguin Random House; and a group of authors filed a federal lawsuit with parents and students against Escambia County School District and School Board. The lawsuit challenges the Florida school’s removal and restriction of books from public school libraries.
Authors included in the lawsuit alongside PEN and Penguin Random House are Sarah Brannen (Uncle Bobby’s Wedding), George M. Johnson (All Boys Aren’t Blue), David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing), Kyle Lukoff (When Aidan Became a Brother, Too Bright to See), and Ashley Hope Pérez (Out of Darkness). All of their books have been removed from and/or subject to restricted access within Escambia County libraries.
The basis of removing the books was “ideological objections to their contents or disagreement with their messages or themes.”
PEN America's concise covering of the lawsuit from their Instagram.
While the idea of a lawsuit—of publishers and authors having genuine legal recourse—seems outlandish or overreactive to some, this is not the first time access to books has been restricted (including full bans), and doesn’t appear to be the last. From July to December 2022, PEN America found 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles.
Most of these titles discuss, cover, or center around LGBTQ+ themes and/or were written by people of color telling stories central to their identities. As stated in the full complaint, this violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which (plainly put) focuses on impartial governing, not taking into consideration distinctions and differences between individuals (like an author, for example) that are irrelevant. For example, if the difference between Book A about a child learning how welcoming home a new sibling and Book B about a child learning how welcoming home a new sibling is that one family is not the typical cisgender-heteronormative nuclear family, or that family is not white, that is an irrelevant fact to consider.
Book restriction and book banning is a very real and serious issue threatening the education and freedom of all of us, not just students who utilize school libraries; if one book is “okay” to ban or restrict (or perhaps stop printing entirely), the same logic of “ideological objection” could be shaped to restrict another book another another adjacent subject.
From July to December 2022, PEN America found 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles.
Limiting access to diverse and variable, safe, and life saving information or life experiences is a slippery slope to limiting access to other facets and options of life, like available healthcare for trans people for example, with all-familiar “ideological objections” at the center.
But, be not afraid (or emptyhanded)! PEN America has a fantastic resource page on Book Bans Frequently Asked Questions to read up on what to do and how you can help out in the case of book banning happening in your own community.
There is hope within the literary community—writers, readers, people who care about other people and their individual and rich stories—and more than enough fight left within us to continue to battle against book censorship.Share This!