February 6, 2024

Judd Legum: The tide turns on Florida book bans

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Writing for Popular Information, Judd Legum reports that while the assault on reading is still going strong in Florida, signs of pushback are increasing.

For years, Florida has been at the vanguard of removing books from school libraries. Florida Republicans, including Governor Ron DeSantis (R), insisted that school librarians were seeking to “groom” children with pornographic materials. Florida’s Republican legislature passed — and Ron DeSantis signed — several pieces of legislation that made it easier to take books off the shelves of the state’s public schools. This was all seen as smart politics, appealing to parents seeking to protect their children from inappropriate content.

But now, things in Florida are changing. Republicans in the Florida House have proposed legislation that would make it more difficult for people to challenge books en mass. The legislation, which has already cleared two committees with Republican support, is an implicit acknowledgment that book banning in Florida schools has gone too far. It also suggests that the enormous number of books being taken off the shelves of Florida schools has become a political problem for Florida Republicans.

The majority of book challenges in the United States came from 11 people. Two of the most prolific, Bruce Friedman and Vicki Baggett, hail from Florida. Friedman and Baggett have each challenged hundreds of books in Clay and Escambia County, respectively. (Baggett has challenged more books in Santa Rosa County.) Over half of all book objections in Florida during the 2022-3 school year came from Clay and Escambia County.

Friedman and Baggett frequently challenge books that include LGBTQ characters or discuss the existence of racism, whether or not the books include any sexual content. Baggett previously told Popular Information that she challenged And Tango Makes Three — a book about two male  penguins who raise a baby chick in the Central Park Zoo — because she was concerned “a second grader would read this book, and that idea would pop into the second grader’s mind… that these are two people of the same sex that love each other.”

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