In their latest assault on the rights of Floridians, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Commissioner of Education have declared that public school libraries should promote “government speech.”
Books are tolerable only when they tell a government-approved story.
The Florida attorney general is, of course, a busy woman, raising her profile for a possible run at the governor’s mansion in 2026, as well as threatening an all-important antitrust suit against the College Football Playoff Committee for their grievous insult to the Florida State Seminoles.
Yet somehow she managed to steal a few minutes to file an amicus brief defending the DeSantis junta’s book-banning frenzy. She says, “Florida’s public school libraries are a forum for government, not private speech.”
Writers, publishers, parents, and weirdos with graduate library science degrees “have no constitutional right to inculcate Florida’s schoolchildren with their preferred ideas through Florida’s school libraries.”
Only Ron DeSantis has the right to do that.
I expect the first text to be yanked from the shelves will be the United States Constitution.
The current regime does not endorse socialist nonsense like that Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal treatment under the law, or that First Amendment, which pushes the radical notion that government cannot suppress or compel speech.
Here in the unfree state of Florida, the government is in the business of both suppressing and compelling speech, forbidding educators to discuss systemic racism, and banning books that deal with sins of the past from slavery to genocide to runaway capitalism; the injustices of the present (don’t speak the names of Trayvon Martin or George Floyd!); or books that suggest being straight, white, and Christian is not the ne plus ultra of human possibility.
Thing is, a lot of us are powerfully attached to that freedom of expression thing; we think that education should not be hamstrung by the fears and prejudices of the government du jour.
It’s a true story, based on Roy and Silo, a pair of male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo who raised a chick together.
Moms for Liberty types and other bears of little brain pitched a fit. Two daddies! What if the book makes little kids want to be gay? What if it makes them want to be penguins?
Lake County eventually put the book back in its libraries and asked a judge to drop the suit. The judge declined: The plaintiffs maintain that “Tango” could easily be re-banned.
The state admitted as much: Any book deemed to present “LGBTQ themes” can be removed from a library at any time.
Any book can be removed for any reason.
In a hearing on Dec. 6, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor wondered whether the state could ban, say, a book written by a Democratic politician?
The lawyer from Ashley Moody’s office replied yes.
The AG’s crude, faux populist legal theory holds that since elected officials fund school libraries (with your tax dollars), they get to turn the First Amendment on its head. Teachers and students do not have free speech rights: They must toe the official line.
“The government has no constitutional obligation to present educational material with which it disagrees.”
If you don’t like it, you have to vote elected officials out of office.
The good news is that those who don’t consider censorship an American value continue to fight in the courts.
The nation’s largest publisher, Penguin Random House, PEN America, and a collection of students and their parents are suing Escambia County, where the school board has banned or challenged a truly impressive number of books—close to 200—for being “disturbing” or “pornographic.”
These filthy texts include Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” two acknowledged classics of American literature.
A high percentage of other books the district says will corrupt the innocence of our youth concern gay kids, people of color, and stories that involve sex of any flavor.
In other words, books that reflect actual human life—books that might expose young people to the strange and often messy world we live in, not some never-never America where we can pretend that we are exceptional, great because we are good, and favored by God.
Perhaps thoroughly embarrassed by their tantrum-throwing, Lake County has simmered down. Escambia County, on the other hand, is in thrall to Florida’s anti-education she-wolves, Moms for Liberty, aided and abetted by a language arts instructor named Vicki Baggett.
Ms. Baggett, who works at Northview High School in Century, is not only a Moms fellow traveler but a proud member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
She’s also an unrepentant bigot.
Vicki Baggett has taken it on herself to challenge hundreds of books, including “When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball” about the great sprinter who overcame polio to win three gold medals in the Olympics. She calls its depiction of the Jim Crow South “race-baiting.”
She’s posted a Confederate battle flag on her Facebook page and proudly declares, “Everyone in my clan fought in the Civil War.”
Former students report that in class she’s given to statements about how the Bible forbids race-mixing (seems she’s afraid we’ll all “turn the same color”) and “nobody’s born” gay.
Like the rest of the Harpies for Hate lobby, she has strong feelings about “And Tango Makes Three,” deeming it an insidious attempt to promote “the LGBTQ agenda using penguins.”
She fears that a second grader was exposed to the book might think “these are two people of the same sex that love each other.”
The state will undoubtedly try to rid K-12 of this book and thousands of others deemed insufficiently supportive of white nationalism, hetero-hegemony, anti-feminism, authoritarianism, jingoism, and hatred of difference.
Consider where this is going: If the regime can strip school libraries of materials that don’t advance its political aims, will books on the climate or anything that might question a pro-oil, pro-development agenda be forbidden?
Despite the killer hurricanes, the floods, the record heat, Ron DeSantis still refers to the necessity of reducing carbon emissions as “politicizing the weather.”
Will students have no access to slave narratives by Harriet Jacobs and Olaudah Equiano (white kids might feel bad) or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (Indians should get over it) or “All the President’s Men” (Nixon wasn’t that bad!) or “Foreign Bodies,” a history of vaccine science (we don’t hold with that stuff in Florida)?
What if they aren’t allowed to explore the rich variety of religions and cultures across the planet?
Government thought control will not help Florida kids prepare for living and working in a diverse country that will soon be majority minority. Nor will it get them into a good college.
The DeSantis regime is intellectually impoverished and proud of it. But Florida’s children should not be imprisoned in their prejudices and parochialism.
The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.