Largest US Publisher, Authors Sue Iowa Over Book Ban

Law that governor says protects children from pornography has been applied to '1984,' 'The Color Purple'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 30, 2023 7:15 PM CST
Suit by Biggest US Publisher Challenges Iowa's Book Ban
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is interviewed earlier this month in Des Moines.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)

The nation's largest publisher and several bestselling authors, including novelists John Green and Jodi Picoult, are part of a lawsuit filed Thursday challenging Iowa's new law that forbids public school libraries and classrooms to stock practically any book that depicts sexual activity. The lawsuit is the second in the past week to challenge the law, which bans books with sexual content all the way through 12th grade. An exception is allowed for religious texts, the AP reports. Penguin Random House and four authors joined several teachers, a student, and the Iowa State Education Association—a union representing 50,000 current and former public school educators—in filing the federal lawsuit.

The law went into effect this fall after the Republican-led Legislature passed it earlier this year and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it in May. In addition to the book ban, the law forbids educators to raise gender identity and sexual orientation issues with students through grade six, and school administrators are required to notify parents if students ask to change their pronouns or names. It is the portion banning books that the latest lawsuit challenges, said Dan Novack, an attorney for and vice president of Penguin Random House. That provision prohibits books that feature any description or depiction of sex—regardless of context or whether the work is fiction or nonfiction—in schools and classroom libraries from kindergarten through grade 12.

The lawsuit, which does not ask for monetary damages, seeks a court order declaring the law unconstitutional, Novack said. Schools already have in place systems that allow parents to object to their children reading books the parents find objectionable, said Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa teachers union. "We take issue with a law that also censors materials for everyone else's child," he said. Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Reynold's office referred to her statement issued earlier this week in response to a separate lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of several families challenging the entirety of the new law. In that statement, Reynolds defended the law as "protecting children from pornography and sexually explicit content."

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Plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit took issue with that characterization, noting that among books that have been banned in Iowa schools are such critically acclaimed and classic works as The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Native Son by Richard Wright, and 1984 by George Orwell. Novelist Laurie Halse Anderson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit whose book Speak about a young teenage rape victim has been banned by several Iowa schools, was more blunt. "I think that anybody who finds a book about a 13-year-old rape survivor as being pornographic needs some professional help," Anderson said.

(More book ban stories.)

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