5 lawsuits over a book getting banned

Rights, NakedLaw

Did you know there’s such a thing as Banned Books Week? There is! The American Library Association puts on the event every fall to raise awareness of banned and challenged books, and to celebrate our “freedom to read.”

Americans hold our First Amendment rights dear, and when we think they’re being infringed upon—even when we are demonstrably wrong—we sue. Here are five lawsuits over controversial books, in honor of Banned Books Week.

Watch out! Harry Potter will turn your child into a wizard

One very determined mother fought for two years to protect her children and the children of her community from a dark, malevolent force: the Harry Potter novels. Back in 2006, mother-of-four Laura Mallory was concerned over the depiction of witchcraft in the kids’ books and filed a lawsuit in a Georgia court. The judge ruled against her, and Harry Potter stayed on the shelves.

Putting the “class” in “class-action lawsuit”

Back in 1987, the Bay County School Board in Panama City, Florida produced a list of 64 books—including “Merchant of Venice,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Red Badge of Courage”—it wanted banned from high schools in the county. But the people weren’t having it.

A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 44 teachers, parents and students in Federal District Court in Pensacola, saying that the ban, which used a three-tier system to categorize books by content, violated their constitutional rights. The day after the suit was filed, the school board had a change of heart.

Utah has learned its lesson

Patricia Polacco’s book “In Our Mothers’ House,” about a family with two moms, has a few haters in Utah. The book was ordered to be removed from elementary schools in the Davis School District because it violated the state’s sex education law; the state is not supposed to advocate homosexuality. In late 2012, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of a woman whose daughter went to one of the affected schools. In early 2013, the school board agreed not just to reinstate the book, but to never ban books with LGBT themes again.

Is it about First Amendment rights, or about factual errors?

“¡Vamos a Cuba!” was at the center of a protracted battle in Florida in the late 2000s. A parent of a student in the Miami-Dade area complained about the young children’s book, about a trip to Cuba, saying that it was factually incorrect.

First, the school board voted to remove the book on those grounds. Then, the ACLU filed suit in 2007, and the District Court in Miami found that the board was infringing on First Amendment rights and ordered them to stop the removal of the book. Next, the school board appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court in Atlanta, which found in a two-to-one vote that the board was not violating the First Amendment, and that the District Court’s injunction to stop the removal of the book was to be lifted.

The ACLU wanted to take it further, but the U.S. Supreme Court denied their petition in late 2009, effectively putting an end to the matter. The upshot: the school board has the right to remove the books on factual grounds.

Louisiana librarian proves a point

Librarian Deloris Wilson was asked to pull four books from the West Monroe (La.) High School in Louisiana for sexual content, and when she refused, she was told to remove all books with sexual content. Which she did – over 200 of them, including the Bible.

With the ACLU, she filed a lawsuit to get those four books (and eventually, the other 200) back in the library. In 1999 the school board settled and agreed to allow the books. In 2001, the ACLU honored Wilson by bestowing the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award on her, which she shared (along with the $25,000 cash award) with Alberto Sarraín.

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