A federal judge says a First Amendment lawsuit can go ahead against a Florida school district for restricting access to library books

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banned books, First Amendment
Banned books. Displayed at The Hive St. Pete. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News (Aug. 2023)

©2024 The News Service of Florida

A federal judge Wednesday cleared the way for a First Amendment challenge to decisions by the Escambia County School Board to remove or restrict access to school library books.

U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell rejected motions to dismiss First Amendment claims in the lawsuit filed in May by seven parents of schoolchildren, five authors, the publishing company Penguin Random House and the free-speech group PEN America, according to a document posted on the court docket.

The plaintiffs also alleged violations of equal protection rights, but Wetherell dismissed that claim.

Attorneys for the school board argued Wetherell should dismiss the case for a series of reasons, including that plaintiffs did not have legal standing and the board has the authority to decide which books to purchase and keep on school shelves. The lawsuit involves the removal of 10 books and restrictions on access to more than 150 others, according to an earlier court document filed by the plaintiffs. Examples include, “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and the book “And Tango Makes Three,” which tells the story of two male penguins who raised a penguin chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The case is playing out amid wide-ranging debates in Florida and other states about school officials removing or restricting access to books.

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