PEN America v. Escambia County School District

  • May 17, 2023
Books on a bookshelf in soft focus.

Protect Democracy, along with co-counsel Ballard Spahr, LLP, represents free expression organization PEN America, alongside publisher Penguin Random House, authors, parents, and students in litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Escambia County School District’s removal and restriction of books discussing race, racism, or LGBTQ individuals from public school libraries.

Ensuring that students have access to books on a wide range of topics and expressing a diversity of viewpoints is a core function of public education that prepares students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens. In contravention of these basic principles, the lawsuit alleges, Escambia County has set out to exclude certain ideas from their school libraries by removing or restricting books, some of which have been on the shelves for years — even decades.

As the Supreme Court has long recognized, “[t]he vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools,” which serve as a “marketplace of ideas.” That is because “[t]he Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues, rather than through any kind of authoritative selection.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 512 (1969).

The lawsuit alleges that the removals and restrictions from school libraries violate the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating based on viewpoint and based on the protected classes to which the authors belong.

“The government should not foster censorship by proxy, allowing one person to decide what ideas are out of bounds for all.”

Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs
Featured Press

Featured Press

NBC News

Penguin Random House and Florida parents sue school district over book bans

May 17, 2023
Case Documents

Case Documents

Related Content