Updated January 31, 2024

In May 2023, PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a diverse group of authors joined with parents and students in Escambia County, Florida, to file a federal lawsuit challenging removals and restrictions of books from school libraries that violate their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. 

This lawsuit brings together authors whose books have been removed or restricted and parents and students in the district who cannot access the books, in a groundbreaking challenge to unlawful censorship.

Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and that express a diversity of viewpoints is a core function of public education — preparing students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens.

The lawsuit says the Escambia County School District and School Board violated the First Amendment rights of the students, authors, and publishers by removing books “based on ideological objections to their contents or disagreement with their messages or themes.” The books targeted for removal disproportionately addressed themes and messages related to race and LGBTQ+ identity. Florida has one of the highest rates of book removals and restrictions in the country, as researched by PEN America and documented in its Index of School Book Bans.

In January 2024, Judge T. Kent Wetherell of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida heard oral arguments on the school district’s motion to dismiss. In an unexpected order from the bench, he denied the school district’s motion to dismiss on the First Amendment claims, finding standing for all plaintiffs and rejecting the school district’s argument that the book removals constituted government speech not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Judge Wetherell dismissed the claim that the removals also violated the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution.

Read the entire amended complaint >>

Read the press release on the filing>>

Read Judge Wetherell’s order on the motion to dismiss >>

Read the press release on Judge Wetherell’s order >>

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