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Writer Wednesday: A Lawsuit to Watch

Good Morning Authors and welcome to another #writerwednesday. Ah, the publishing industry, never a dull moment. If the ever changing landscape of publishing wasn't enough to keep you on your toes, there is always something interesting happening and last week, a particular lawsuit made headlines. Now, publishing is no stranger to lawsuits, but the nature of this suit, its participants, the potential implications of the results could have a wide reaching impact for authors and communities.

A Lawsuit to Watch

We are talking about the lawsuit against the Escambia County School Board in Florida, filed on May 17th by PEN America, Penguin Random House, a group of authors, and parents for the unconstitutional removal of books from school libraries. The rapid rise of book banning and bigoted policies rolling out of several states has been alarming, but none has garnered the level of concern as Florida due to the over arching political implications. This might be part of the reason why these parties chose Florida to finally wade in, but whatever the reason, this is big, and could mean a lot things moving forward.

The lawsuit puts forth that school administrators and board members are violating the 1st Amendment (Freedom of Speech), and the 14th Amendment (the Equal Protection Clause). The 1st Amendment and the broad interpretations applied to it have been used as a tool by both sides of the political spectrum when it comes to book banning. Because of that broad interpretation, basing their lawsuit on that violation alone may prove tricky depending on the politics of the courtroom, but the inclusion of the 14th Amendment broadens the scope and impact of the suit.

There have been many debates on how the 1st Amendment applies to the subject of book banning, particularly in the current politically charged climate surrounding these decisions. And a lawsuit like this once again poses the question if the broad interpretations of Freedom of Speech creates a loop hole for Hate Speech, Bigotry, and Discrimination.

"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." -PEN America/ PRH Suit

Book Banning and Challenges have, unfortunately, been a part of the Educational landscape in America for quite some time. In the Escambia case, a single Language Arts teacher led the charge in four waves of book bans, removing nearly 200 books deemed 'inappropriate' for their LGBTQ and racial content.

"At least 42% have authors who are non-white and/or identify as LGBTQ, while approximately 59% address themes relating to race or LGBTQ identity. While books that reference same-sex relationships or transgender people are being 'automatically placed under restriction' during their review period."

There have been attempts to push back against these bans made before. But the scope and scale of this suit is different. And while Penguin Random House came under the scrutiny for the Merger Busting suit last year, their involvement in this case could prove to be a crucial lynch pin in how this case is handled.

Now there is precedent that the lawsuit could rule in favor of PEN America & PRH. In March, a Texas Judge ruled that the banning and removal of books from public libraries was unconstitutional. The key factors for this case will likely boil down to the fine lines between public consumption vs educational parameter arguments (where having parents arguing for the return of these materials will be vital), and that 14th Amendment inclusion. We are not even mentioning the politics.

This case and its eclectic group of plaintiffs is definitely one to keep an eye and could have tremendous impacts moving forward.

"Our children need the adults in their lives to stand up for the promise of cooperation and equity." -Lindsay Durtschi, an Escambia County parent and plaintiff.

Resources & Further Reading

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