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Book Banning is Un-American

Brandon Hensler,
ACLU of Florida
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February 7, 2009

Book banning flies in the face of one of the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights — Freedom of Expression — and it is not tolerated in America; except maybe in the chambers of the Miami-Dade School Board.

In 2006 the ACLU of Florida began to warn the school district that if they banned the children’s book ¡Vamos a Cuba! and its English equivalent, A Visit to Cuba, a lawsuit would follow. The book is part of a series that shows children ages 5-7 basic facts about other countries, such as the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, and the things they do.

In a politically charged vote, the board voted to ban the book against the advice of the district’s superintendent, the school board’s own attorney, as well as two separate committees comprised of educators, parents and librarians. The school board banned the book saying that it doesn’t accurately portray the Castro regime. (Later, the district would yank every book in the 24-book series off the shelves, further making school children the losers in this battle.)

This could quite possibly be the first time that a book was banned not for what it did say, rather for what it doesn’t say. And the irony is that banning a book because of its content is exactly the type of action one would expect from a Castro regime — not something that would happen here.

In June 2006, the ACLU of Florida filed suit against the school district, demanding that the books be returned to the shelves. Librarians and experts testified that the book is age appropriate and that it should in fact remain on the shelves. The Florida Library Association even filed an amicus brief in the case. The ACLU prevailed in the federal district court and the school district quickly appealed – throwing more taxpayers’ money at the problem they themselves had created.

On Thursday, the 11th Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, a decision the ACLU says was short-sighted.

If school administrators are given license to ban books they don’t like from the public libraries, then we are one step closer to the death of the marketplace of ideas and our libraries will be filled not with books but with empty shelves. The American way, the constitutional way, would be to buy more books with different viewpoints and add them — not scrub the shelves of every book that doesn’t fit a particular person’s political views. Censorship is censorship, period.

The ACLU of Florida and cooperating counsel are looking at the decision and will be moving forward to protect free speech in this, our free country. Stay tuned!

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