Republicans in charge of the Florida Legislature have taken a sledgehammer to our freedoms recently.
in 2021, Floridians got a little preview of what was to come with the anti-protest law passed as a response to the largely peaceful protests in the state after the murder of George Floyd. In 2022, the anti-freedom agenda was taken to another level.
There was a ban on abortions after 15 weeks. Corporations can now block any ordinance passed by local governments that impacts their profits by 15%. Lessons in public schools regarding racism and U.S. history were restricted. LGBTQ topics in schools were censored.
Ron DeSantis continued this crusade against freedom by signing House Bill 1467 into law. It would allow people, and political groups whose members might not have children in a local public school — to challenge and ban instructional material and library books from public schools. This opens up the possibility of censorship based on political agendas.
Instead of allowing teachers to do their jobs and exposing students to different viewpoints and ideas to foster critical thinking, this law also allows bureaucrats in Tallahassee to compile a list of books banned by school districts so other districts can also prohibit them.
The banning of books is not just relegated to Florida.
In Texas, Republican State Representative Matt Krause compiled a list of roughly 850 books to be banned and Governor Greg Abbott also told state agencies to develop rules and regulations to block certain books within public schools. Late last year, Texas passed a similar bill to Florida’s that limits how race, slavery, and history are taught in schools.
Under this new censorship law in Texas, a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” What a controversial issue is not defined within the legislation and if a teacher does discuss these topics, they must “explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.” Imagine trying to discuss the history of slavery within the United States in an “objective” manner.
Students are now pushing back against censorship by forming banned book clubs and distribution drives that focus on the LGBTQ and racial themes that are targeted by intolerant Republicans.
In Tennessee, a school district made headlines across the country after removing the acclaimed Holocaust graphic novel from students’ curricula. The attempts to censor books in schools has gotten so bad that according to an American Library Association Report, there were 330 “book challenges” just in the fall of 2020, and “parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades,” according to the New York Times.
A report by the Guardian details how conservative groups that are funded by rich right-wing donors are carrying forward these censorship campaigns. It should surprise no one that the books largely being targeted for censorship and that received the most challenges in libraries and schools in 2020 are those that deal with racism, Black American history, and LGBTQ topics.
Back in Florida, the Polk County school district compiled a list of 16 books they want to ban, including The Kite Runner, a Khaled Hosseini novel about a Muslim boy from Afghanistan who recalls traumatic incidents from his childhood. Another book to be censored is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, which tells the story of a young Black girl growing up during the depression in Ohio.
Imagine how ignorant and reactionary you have to be to ban these books from school libraries: pic.twitter.com/xirE63W0Nk
— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) February 9, 2022
The conservative strategy around banning books is clear. They want to intimidate school boards and administrators to remove material that could be controversial. They want to empower those with political agendas to file frivolous litigation against school districts that teach topics that they find objectionable.
There is a larger agenda here. There has been a long-standing war against public education in this country that’s being waged by right-wing extremists who seek to replace it with a system of private and charter schools. Beyond creating an atmosphere of intimidation, these frivolous lawsuits against public schools over books will serve to continue siphoning much-needed revenue that could otherwise go into making our children’s education better. The goal isn’t just to censor content, it’s also you outright bankrupt schools through lawsuits.
If this all sounds pretty anti-freedom to you, it’s because it is. There is nothing good about banning books, and those who engage in it always end up on the wrong side of history.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.
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is a former reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a fomer Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.