4 Lawsuits Challenging Book Bans in 2024

Governors and school boards in Texas and Iowa have been trying to limit the books and lessons that children are exposed to in classrooms and libraries.

The bans, which have been implemented through laws passed in states controlled by Republicans and an executive order signed by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, target content that conservatives consider harmful. This includes texts and courses that focus on topics related to race, as well as sexual or gender identity.

Books ranging from well-known works like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” to more recent works like Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” have faced bans or challenges. Nonprofit organizations and free-speech groups, such as PEN America and the ACLU, have teamed up with major publishing companies in the United States to resist and oppose certain actions.

PEN America is keeping a close record of the number of books that have been banned or challenged. The current count is almost 4,000. Organizations are relying on the courts to challenge book bans and restrictions on educational materials. There are four lawsuits that directly challenge book bans in the country:

Ruthie Walls, et. al. vs. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

The state has made a decision regarding a lawsuit filed by teachers and students from Little Rock Central High School. This school was the site of the historic 1957 racial desegregation crisis. The state’s decision is related to their previous decision last year, where they stated that an Advanced Placement course on African American Studies would not count towards the credits needed for Arkansas high school students to graduate.

The lawsuit claims that the restrictions, which were part of several education changes signed into law by Gov. Sanders, a Republican, last year, violate the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment and the principle of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

PEN America, Penguin Random House vs. Escambia County, Fla., School Board

In May 2023, Penguin Random House and PEN America filed a lawsuit stating that schools in Escambia County, Florida, violated the First Amendment rights of students, authors, and publishers. This was done by removing books from schools due to ideological objections or disagreement with their messages or themes.

The books that are frequently removed or challenged, as stated in the lawsuit, deal with topics related to race and LGBTQ+ issues, such as gender identity and same-sex attraction. Florida has one of the highest rates of book removals and restrictions in the United States, according to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans.

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Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers and Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House vs. State of Iowa

The federal lawsuit, originally filed by the country’s largest publishing company, directly challenges Iowa’s State law SF 496. This law bans books that are not considered “age-appropriate” and also limits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity. TThe plaintiffs in the case are bestselling authors John Green and Jodi Picoult. Both of them have books on the list of banned books.

“We, as publishers, are coming together to strongly support educators, librarians, students, authors, and readers in opposing the unconstitutional censorship measures being enforced by the state of Iowa,” stated the plaintiffs. “The increasing number of book bans happening in the country requires all of us to take action together.” It is important to support our authors and readers in protecting the right to read and freedom of expression, especially in these times.

Lambda Legal, ACLU Iowa, and Jenner & Block LLP vs. State of Iowa State of Iowa

The lawsuit, filed by a coalition led by Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that supports gay, lesbian, and transgender clients, also targets SF 496. The lawsuit claims that SF 496 is an attempt to silence LGBTQ+ students, remove any mention of LGBTQ+ people from public schools, and prohibit books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content. This information comes from a news release.

The HarperCollins lawsuit primarily dealt with book bans, while the Lambda Legal suit The Lambda Legal lawsuit challenges three specific parts of a bill that come from various laws passed in Iowa. Other advocates have also taken these laws to court. The lawsuit not only challenges the book ban but also targets a provision called “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” that prohibits educational programs, curriculum, instruction, and other educational content related to gender identity or sexual orientation. It presents a challenge.

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