Book publisher Penguin Random House, along with several parents, authors and the literary and free speech advocacy group PEN America, are suing a Florida school district to challenge the removal of several books on race and LGBTQ issues from school libraries.
The suit was filed Wednesday in the Northern District of Florida against the Escambia County school district and its school board in Pensacola, Florida.
It was brought by attorneys representing the publisher and the advocacy group, as well as five authors whose books have been either removed from school libraries or are being challenged, and parents of children impacted by the book bans.
They argue that school officials violated the First Amendment because they chose to remove books against the recommendations of school committees reviewing book challenges, and “based on their disagreement with the ideas expressed in those books,” according to the lawsuit.
“This disregard for professional guidance underscores that the agendas underlying the removals are ideological and political, not pedagogical,” the lawsuit says.
In the suit, they also argue school officials violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment because the books being challenged and those removed are disproportionately written by people of color and LGBTQ authors, or address race and identity topics.
Cody Strother, a spokesperson for Escambia County Public Schools, told CNN the district is “unable to comment on potential pending litigation.”
Two Escambia County School Board members also told CNN they couldn’t comment on pending litigation. CNN has asked the other three board members for comment about the lawsuit but has not received a response.
In the current school year, about 200 books have been challenged in Escambia County Public Schools, according to data compiled by district officials and made available online.
More than half of those titles have been placed under restricted access and require parental permission during the review process, and 16 books have been either removed from all libraries or made only available for certain grades, according to the district’s data.
“Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said in a statement.
Nadine Farid Johnson, an attorney and managing director of PEN America’s Washington and Free Expression programs, said the book bans in Escambia County schools are “blatantly unconstitutional attempts to silence and stigmatize.”
“The government should not foster censorship by proxy, allowing one person to decide what ideas are out of bounds for all,” she said in a statement.
The lawsuit seeks the return of removed books to the school libraries in the district as well as costs and attorney fees.