PEN America, Penguin Random House Sue Florida School District Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Book Bans

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In response to a troubling wave of book bans, PEN America, Penguin Random House, a group of authors, and a group of parents have filed a federal lawsuit against a Florida school district over the “unconstitutional” removal of books from school libraries.

The suit, filed on May 16 in the Northern district of Florida in Pensacola, alleges that administrators and school board members in Florida’s Escambia County School District are violating the First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment (the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution) because the books being singled out are “disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ+ authors” and often address “themes or topics” related to race or LGBTQ+ community.

The suit seeks to have the district’s actions declared unconstitutional and to have the banned books returned to library shelves.

“In every decision to remove a book, the School District has sided with a challenger expressing openly discriminatory bases for challenge, overruling the recommendations of review committees at the school and district levels,” the complaint alleges. “These restrictions and removals have disproportionately targeted books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ people, and have prescribed an orthodoxy of opinion that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments…. Today, Escambia County seeks to bar books critics view as too ‘woke.’ In the 1970s, schools sought to bar Slaughterhouse-Five and books edited by Langston Hughes. Tomorrow, it could be books about Christianity, the country’s founders, or war heroes. All of these removals run afoul of the First Amendment, which is rightly disinterested in the cause du jour.”

In a release, PEN officials called the suit a “first-of-its-kind challenge to unlawful censorship,” as it brings together concerned parents, authors, and a major publisher.

“In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to silence pluralism and diversity,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel in a statement. “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.” She added that “children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous.”

Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, agreed. “Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives,” Malaviya said in a release announcing the suit. “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.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG instinctively sides with the parents in these sorts of cases. PEN and Penguin Random House don’t know anything about Escambia County, the schools, the teachers, the students or the parents. More than a third of the county’s population is not white. The largest minority, African-Americans, is over 20% of the population.

The county tends to vote Republican.

The median household income in Escambia County is $56,605.

The CEO of Penguin Random House earns about $700,000 per year. Suzanne F. Nossel, the CEO of PENN America, earns $423,478 per year and is a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

These two highly-privileged Manhattanites are the ones telling the parents of Escambia County’s school children what books those children must see in their school libraries without ever having met, let alone spoken with a single parent or child in Escambia County nor spent a minute of time in Escambia County prior to hiring attorneys to go there to straighten the poor folks out and show them who’s boss.

25 thoughts on “PEN America, Penguin Random House Sue Florida School District Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Book Bans”

    • And that is the gist of it: they think that their books are so “precious” they *must* be carried, they *must* be paid. By people who have no interest in the material.
      They don’t care about content or culture, it’s just the money they are “entitled” to.

      If there is one word the world can do without, it is “entitled”.

      The only thing anybody is entitled to in this world is breathing, if that.
      ‘Cause these days you’re not entitled to your own thoughts anymore, only what the orthodoxy promotes this week.

  1. It will be interesting to see what the results are here, mostly because of the different routes the district might take to defend itself.

    Will they go with the legal route: “it is perfectly in our rights to do as we please in this matter?” Or, will they go with the statistical route and attempt to claim that they were pulling books with bad content across the board and that these just happened to be disproportionately by non-white authors and about sexual minorities. (And, frankly, I could believe that the last part might actually have some truth to it, given how nuts some librarians have been about the whole thing, although if the plaintiffs were smart they chose a district where the censors pulled a lot of fairly innocuous stuff instead of or in addition to works with graphic sexual/racist/historically false content.)

  2. Can “both sides” please lose here?

    (1) I have less than zero sympathy for pressure groups focusing on (often illusory) consensus-moral-values considerations in school and public libraries and curricula. Not just because I’m a religious minority on multiple axes, or because I’m a nerd, although those are certainly part of the issue; because I completely distrust any local consensus as being not appropriate “guidance,” but appropriate “gatekeeping,” for all children/residents.†

    (2) I have less than zero sympathy for the particular crap being put forth by the particular gatekeepers in that howling barbarian wilderness east of the Hudson River. Although they refuse to recognize it, their methodology is disturbingly similar to that of the pressure groups that they’re opposing in this instance.

    Neither group is actually interested in the welfare of those it is purporting to protect. Instead, both groups are self-aggrandizing jerks interested only in enhancing their own influence, standing, and power — and brainwashing everyone else. It’s not that they cannot have any interest at all in doing so; it’s that that cannot be their only rationale, and certainly not as to others’ welfare.

    A pox on both their houses. At which point, no doubt, someone will prescribe mercury salts (because both these particular moral pressure groups and the NYC commercial-publishing mafiosi are remarkably behind on their understandings of science). Put another way, this entire dispute is a paradigmatic example of the false dilemma: It’s not “my way or the highway” (especially with Dick Turpin lurking in the underbrush).

    † Especially when that pressure is achieved or magnified through voter-suppression efforts, as other records demonstrate were both attempted and all too successful in Escambia County.

    • In what aspect of science are the people advocating the removal of certain books deficient? What specific science?

      In what aspect of science are the publishers deficient?

      How does their scientific deficiency affect the specific issue?

  3. In the cable TV business, the traditional networks lobbied their way to the FCC e$tabli$hing the Mu$t Carry doctrine that forced the cablecos (hardly angels themselves) to pay to distribute the same content freely available via antenna. Which they paid for by raising consumer pricing. Over and over. In the process, they have encouraged consumers to drop cable altogether. Which in turn led to catfights over the carriage fees, leading to more price hikes, leading to more cord cutting.

    A true virtuous circus that will soon end both businesses. 😀

    The Manhattan Mafia is trying to establish a Library Must-Carry precedent of their own and it already has raised the specter of communities shutting down their public libraries rather than pay to carry content they object to. Much like broadcast TV the Must Carry “pox” is going to hit all sides, not just the publishers nor the protesting parents.

    And there will be little sympathy left over for either absolutist camp.

    • The local Spectrum (Charter Comm) has recently been offering cable cutters an option of choosing any fifteen channels at a reduced price. It’s not in their catalog, but is available when canceling.

      • Some Cablecos are dropping their entire cableTV operation and are instead becoming resellers of YOUTUBE TV.

        They get rid of the hardware division and staff, they no longer have to deal with broadcasters, and they get a cut of the YOUTUBE TV revenue plus all the profits from broadband service. A net win.

        A trend to watch.
        Down the road, if YOUTUBE TV gets big enough, they’ll be squeezing the broadcasters over carriage fees and they’ll moan about thr monster they created. Just like corporate publishers and Amazon.

  4. I am still waiting for some brave soul to sue a Leftist-controlled public library or school district for not carrying “Mein Kampf,” “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” or having “Birth of a Nation” among their video offerings.

    Although I do fear that my popcorn budget might not withstand the strain.

    • I’m not sure about school libraries but we can make the case that the public library should clearly hold all three.

      The Protocols… gets sufficient mention in secondary texts that the serious student may need to consult it (though one can hope in an edition that points out that it is a nasty ahistorical pile of antisemitic shite).

      Equally, a student of film will want to examine Griffith’s work – along with Triumph des Willens and its like – ideally with enough context to warn the viewer just how unpleasant they are. If someone really want to ban films, I nominate Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, crap history and deeply racist (in some ways worse than The Birth of a Nation because it is not so blatant and tries to disguise and prettify its lost cause approach to slavery). Plus it’s a terrible movie.

      And as for Mein Kampf this should be compulsory reading (in a reliable translation – I’m led to believe that there are a lot of bad and/or dishonest ones out in the wild). The left can then discover that Hitler hated capitalism (hint: it his mind it was all run by Jews) and the extreme right that Hitler is a terrible writer and that his masterwork is a boring, repetitive and a repulsive mess. Both extremes could also learn that Hitler keeps saying he’s a socialist, but neither will believe that.

      Note: I’m making the case very much tongue in cheek. In practice, I hope that any and everyone who might sue to force a library to buy their pet books loses.

      • A book that sticks in the craw of the left, mostly because it endures, is ATLAS SHRUGGED.
        As SF it’s middling–could’ve used better editing excising a chapter or two–but the world building has proven quite prescient. In many ways we are living in that world.

        Certainly the first two parts of the most recent movie adaptation are very watchable. And on PRIME VIDEO:

        Very good ensemble cast of established actors.
        Critics trashed it for its politics but audiences loved it (4stars+).
        The trilogy was starved of funding for the sequels.

        For a fun time, look up SONG OF THE SOUTH.
        Disney so refuses to admit it exists you can readily find and download the HD Version and they make no claim upon it. True abandonware.

        Classic Disney animation with great songs but it does require some nuance and understanding of the period both of which are not traits of absolutists.

        There’s plenty of “problematic” material still available out there for open minds but maybe not for long.

        • Perhaps some books dealing with the problems faced by people who undergo sex change surgery and regret it? Or change back to the extent possible?

          • Some have come out to speak of it but do you really think any Corporate Publisher would print it?

            Even going indie is no guarantee: Amazon has bowed to activists before.

            It’s the equivalent of a book extolling the virtues of collectivism in Israeli Kibbutz getting published in the mid 50’s.

            The mind virus either prevails completely or dies out completely. No middle ground left at this point. Either way, the only sure thing is a scorched earth.

            (Look at the riot in Nebraska over a reasonable state law setting european level limits. Nothing but absolutes is acceptable now.)

      • Mein Kampf (and, for that matter, Das Kapital) are just as badly written in the German of their respective eras as every “honest” translation into English — even the amateurish ones. (I’m excluding as “dishonest” translations made with self-aggrandizing and holy-word-of-[insertdeityhere] intent.) That’s not surprising for the Schickelgrüber, but one might have expected better from a purported intellectual like Karl Marx. The logical flaws and inept expressions in both books are just sitting there… however, they’re not intended as persuasive rhetoric for the unconvinced, but as agitprop for the already-faithful.

        • As “coherent” as the Kaczinski manifesto.

          Manifests are about self-expression, not persuasion.
          And as such are about as effective as parading around times square with a sign that “THE END IS NIGH!”

          • Meanwhile, we wait for the manifesto from the Memphis school shooter. Seems to be taking a long time.

                • Does it matter?
                  When it neutered itself it removed itself from the evolutionary process.

                  That said, conventional “wisdom” claims only y-chromes resort to mass murder therapy, aka, suicide by SWAT. The reluctance to release the data might indicate it is problematic in more than one way.

                • So, was this shooter an X or Y chromosome? I’ve seen both male and female pronouns.

                  It’s important to assign identity to mass shooters. Anyone notice how recent shootings have been dominated by people with Spanish surnames? Uvalde, the guy shooting in his backyard who went after the neighbors, and the Texas shopping mall shooter. I think there have also been several trans shooters. I suspect this devation from white males is distressing to the left.

                • Distressing is too kind.
                  Assumes facts not in evidence. 😉

                  To be distressed by the facts they first have to *accept* the facts as valid, not wave them off or sweep them under the rug because they don’t fit the narrative.

                  Like young girls spending 10 years in training to be the best they can be for the Olympics only to be bumped off the team by three dudes in drag who couldn’t make the boys team. Against those odds even the old east german womens’ team would fail.

                  Don’t expect a clear answer. Ever.

            • The shooter was a she who wished to be a he. She was taking testosterone, which in excess tends to make men violent. And apparently, women as well. For people who don’t believe biology is related to sex, the knowledge that hormones influence behavior — and biology! — might be too unsettling.

              On the manifesto front, the only good one I can think of offhand was the B.R. Myers manifesto in The Atlantic calling out the pretentiousness of the prose in American literature. She or he did kick off an interesting discussion.

      • I agree those works should remain available. When I pointed out to someone that his friends were pushing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion nonsense, he insisted I was making this up. So I found them online and read them to him.

        “You know this is crap, right?” I asked.

        In film class, we learned about the film techniques Leni Riefenstahl and D.W. Griffith pioneered. I’m all for teaching them, because so many people are clueless about how different techniques in filmmaking can slant a point of view. I remember Gail Heriot at Instapundit talking about a man, Dale Akiki, who was falsely accused of victimizing children during the Satanic Panic era. Apparently, documentaries and news crews deliberately used Dutch angles and such to exaggerate his unusual appearance (he has Noonan syndrome). Heriot said the film tricks initially worked on her, and that’s the point.

        As long as the ideas embedded in these works are still around, it will always be important to have the “source materials” so they can be studied and their influence recognized. Unfortunately, schools have so damaged the trust of parents that what should be straightforward has become less so.

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