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School district that removed sexually explicit books sued by publisher, authors who blast 'extremist minority' for silencing 'LGBTQ,' 'non-white' voices

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

A book publisher, authors, and two parents joined a lawsuit filed on Wednesday against a Florida school district for its decision to remove sexually explicit literature from library shelves, claiming the district's book ban violates the First Amendment.

PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to free speech, and book publisher Penguin Random House, authors, and parents announced a lawsuit against Escambia County School District and School Board demanding that several sexually themed books be returned to the district's school libraries.

"Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and expressing a diversity of viewpoints supports a core function of public education, preparing students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens," PEN America said in a statement released Wednesday.

The suit accused the Florida district of intentionally "censoring certain ideas and viewpoints," alleging officials deliberately banned any literature "discussing race, racism, and LGBTQ identities, against the recommendations of the district review committee."

The suit names 10 books removed by the school district.

"This lawsuit brings together authors whose books have been banned, parents and students in the district who cannot access the books, and a publisher in a first-of-its-kind challenge to unlawful censorship," PEN America wrote.

According to the nonprofit's lawsuit, the district "made clear" that "it is willing to allow an extremist minority to substitute its political agenda for the judgment of educators and parents."

The lawsuit accused the school district of violating the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause by singling out "books by non-white and/or LGBTQ authors" that "often address themes or topics related to race or LGBTQ identity."

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said, "Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution."

"In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices," Nossel continued. "In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand. The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong.

CEO of Penguin Random House Nihar Malaviya stated, "Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights."

"We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression. We are proud to join forces with our longtime partner PEN America," Malaviya added.

The organization noted that "adult fiction authors" David Levithan, George M. Johnson, and Ashley Hope Pérez joined the lawsuit. Children's book illustrator Sarah Brannen and children's book author Kyle Lukoff are also involved in the suit.

ECSD, a district with over 30 elementary schools, nine middle schools, and seven high schools, banned "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "Lucky" by Alice Sebold, "Push" by Sapphire, "When Aidan Became a Brother" by Kyle Lukoff, and "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson for containing sexual themes.

The district's communications coordinator, Cody Strother, told the Washington Post that ECSD is unable to comment on pending litigation.

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