Penguin Random House, the nation's largest publisher, filed a lawsuit in Florida federal court on Wednesday, challenging the state's book ban. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
May 17 (UPI) -- Free-speech group PEN America and publisher Penguin Random House filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in federal court, challenging book bans in a Florida Panhandle county.
The lawsuit alleges that administrators and school board members in Florida's Escambia County School District have violated the First and 14th amendments. The groups say the books that are being banned are "disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ+ authors."
"Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives," said Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, in a statement, according to USA Today. "Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our Constitutional rights."
Book bans have increased in recent years in mainly conservative states, such as Florida, where its governor and Republican majority lawmakers have capitalized on divisive culture issues.
Wednesday's complaint states that the school board has targeted 197 books for removal, with 59% addressing themes relating to race or LGBTQ identity.
Most of the books were banned after complaints from a single teacher in the county.
One of the authors who had their books removed, Ashley Hope Pérez, told Publishers Weekly that the book bans deprive children of a complete education.
"Young readers in Escambia schools and across the nation deserve a complete and honest education, one that provides them with full access in libraries to a wide range of literature that reflects varied viewpoints and that explores the diversity of human experiences," said Pérez, author of Out of Darkness, one of the books targeted for removal by the school district. "As a former public high school English teacher, I know firsthand how important libraries are. For many young people, if a book isn't in their school library, it might as well not exist."
Two parents, Lindsay Durtschi and Ann Novakowski, have also joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs.
"Without diverse representation in literature and inclusive dialogue in the classroom, we are doing irreparable harm to the voices and safety of students in Florida," Durtschi told Publishers Weekly. "Our children need the adults in their lives to stand up for the promise of cooperation and equity."