As if the crusade to purge libraries of books relating to race, sexuality or gender identity wasn’t authoritarian enough, Florida’s attorney general is now making the legal argument that libraries exist to push “government speech.” In making this argument, she compared a children’s book about gay penguins to Nazi propaganda, claiming the government has a right to purge it.
Attorney General Ashley Moody (an appointee of Gov Ron DeSantis) submitted a legal brief in support of the Escambia County School Board, which is facing a lawsuit over its banning of And Tango Makes Three.
“In my head, I blamed my queer friends; they party too much and maybe I was outgrowing traveling with gay people.”
“Public school systems exclude materials like Nazi propaganda because they disagree that Nazis were wonderful, regardless of any educational value the materials may have,” Moody argued. “Viewpoint-based educational choices are constitutionally permissible because public-school systems, including their libraries, convey the government’s message.”
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Moody’s argument goes beyond the Nazi comparison (and ignores the fact that LGBTQ+ people were targets of the actual Nazi party). She claimed the plaintiffs were somehow burdening the government.
If their lawsuit were to succeed, Moody argued, “the government would not only have to curate those litigants’ preferred materials, but also reallocate resources and student attention away from those that advance the government’s selected educational mission.”
This is not what the plaintiffs are asking. The book was already in the library before the school board removed it in accordance with DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The plaintiffs are seeking to have their books restored, not demanding the government to invest additional resources into stocking their “preferred materials.”
The lawsuit — which has been brought by authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, publisher Penguin Random House, along with students and parents — rests on the claim that banning the book represents an infringement on free speech. But the defendants are now arguing that a library ban is its own protected form of governmental speech.
“Florida’s public-school libraries are a forum for government, not private, speech,” Moody wrote. Repeatedly throughout the brief, Moody referred to government speech/messaging as a legitimate right.
Advocates and legal experts have voiced alarm over the precedent such an argument could set if it succeeds. Speaking to the Tallahassee Democrat, Middle Tennessee State University’s Free Speech Center director Ken Paulson said, “There’s considerable irony in that those who seek to limit access to books in school libraries often say they’re fighting for parental rights.
“If government speech determines what books can be in the library, the government is essentially saying your children can only see the ideas that the government has approved.
“That’s not parental rights. That’s authoritarianism.”
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