UPDATED 7/26/23. Lawsuit Filed Against Law Requiring Ratings on Books with Sexual Topics in Texas

(NEW YORK)—A group of publishers and booksellers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against HB 900, claiming the Texas law violates First Amendment rights by forcing private business to comply with government views. The law, which is set to go into effect in September, will require individual booksellers to “rate” books sold to public schools for sexual content and would prohibit booksellers from doing business with schools if they fail to do so according to state standards.

Missouri passed legislation last year that prohibits “explicit sexual material” being circulated to students, leading to the removals of graphic novels, books containing photography, art history books, sex education books, and books about the Holocaust, as districts took overly cautious action out of fear of criminal penalties. In one analysis, more than half of the books banned following the passage of Missouri’s SB 775 were about or written by LGBTQ+ people or people of color. HB 900 in Texas stands to have a similar chilling effect.

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, said: “Booksellers have rightly determined that terms like “sexually relevant” are impossible to interpret and impossible to enforce. This legislatively-mandated rating of books, applied under threat of punishment, is sure to lead to overzealous restrictions. As state legislative efforts to ban books, prohibit topics for classroom instruction, intimidate teachers, and burden schools escalate, we hope lawsuits like this one will affirm citizens’ freedom to read against censorious government overreach.”

Original press release published on June 12, 2023

(NEW YORK)— PEN America today responded to TX Gov Abbott’s signing of House Bill 900 that will require book vendors to create ratings for “sexual relevance” on books for K-12 schools. 

Jonathan Friedman, director, Free Expression and Education program, at PEN America, said: “This law is clearly an effort to intimidate publishers and police the circulation of ideas and information. It forces a legislatively-mandated rating system on book vendors under threat of punishment, and creates new government power to limit what books can be available in schools for all to read — a power that could easily be exercised subjectively and influenced by political motives. Publishers already assign age-relevant categories to books using industry-adopted conventions (such as picture book, easy reader, middle grade, and young adult). In the current climate of educational censorship nationwide, this law looks like a new tool for constraining the availability of books in Texas that is deeply undemocratic.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057