BOOK BAN - Ron DeSantis‘s Attorney General Ashley Moody compared a children’s book about a same-sex penguin couple to Nazi propaganda in a legal filing for a case challenging the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ book ban.
The lawsuit filed by authors and book publishers against the Escambia County School Board says the board violated authors’ and publishers’ First Amendment free speech rights by removing a gay-inclusive children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, and other books from its shelves. The book, one of the country’s most frequently banned books, is about a same-sex penguin couple raising a chick.
“Public school systems exclude materials like Nazi propaganda because they disagree that Nazis were wonderful, regardless of any educational value the materials may have,” Moody wrote in her brief. “Viewpoint-based educational
choices are constitutionally permissible because public-school systems, including their libraries, convey the government’s message.”
Tellingly, Moody’s brief also mentions two LGBTQ+-related Supreme Court cases to support their argument: Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995) and 303 Creative LLC. v. Elenis (2023). But both cases examined whether the government could force private business owners to express support for the LGBTQ+ community against their will. Comparatively, the Florida case is about whether the government can censor texts about queers and marginalized groups.
“Forcing the government ‘to speak’ in a school library ‘what it does not believe on pain of lawsuit’… would put policy decisions about what to teach in schools in the hands of [private publishing companies] rather than elected representatives,” Moody argues.
“The government would not only have to curate those litigants’ preferred materials, but also reallocate resources and student attention away from those that advance the government’s selected educational mission,” Moody adds, mischaracterizing the entire lawsuit.
The publishers and authors involved in the case aren’t asking for special treatment or for the schools to suddenly invest a bunch of time and money into stocking their books. In fact, Florida’s own school systems already had these newly banned books on library shelves until the anti-LGBTQ+ ban went into effect. The resulting lawsuit only occurred after DeSantis’s administration banned the titles — effectively removing the publisher’s constitutionally protected rights to free speech.
In her brief, Moody repeatedly says that schools exist to push the “government’s message,” a line of reasoning that critics have called “authoritarian.”
“There’s considerable irony in that those who seek to limit access to books in school libraries often say they’re fighting for parental rights,” said Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “If government speech determines what books can be in the library, the government is essentially saying your children can only see the ideas that the government has approved. That’s not parental rights — that’s authoritarianism.”
A group of 23 constitutional scholars filed another brief in the case, stating, “The notion that such libraries exist to carry official messaging [for the government] is profoundly antithetical to their nature and purpose.”
(Daniel Villarreal is a longtime journalist, webmaster of DanielVillarrealWrites.com and an educator who has written for Queerty, The Seattle Stranger, Vox, Slate and many other publications. This article was first published in LGBTQ Nation.)