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Florida Governor DeSantis’ Policies Investigated in U.S. Senate Hearing on Book Bans

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What books must be on school shelves has been not only an issue but a pivotal battle in Florida’s culture wars. It’s removed from resolved. And a congressional hearing shows that’s true on the national stage, too.

Lawmakers got heated during a United States Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, titled, ”Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature.”

Republicans bashed Democrats for holding the hearing in the primary place, accusing them of attempting to intimidate parents attempting to speak out for his or her child. Democrats said the intimidation was coming from the minority of oldsters and a barrage of political outside interests attempting to remove schools’ books, lots of them featuring diverse characters and topics.

Florida got invoked multiple times in the course of the fray, the controversy-mired state providing ammunition for each side.

“There’s an organized effort on this country to push ideas, books, literature, through the general public school system and libraries that has a really strong political agenda behind it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee’s rating member.

“In Florida, Ron DeSantis did something you could not like, Mr. Chairman,” Graham said. “In Illinois, you do it a unique way. But Gov. DeSantis decided he would step in and stop what he thought was abusive, from his standpoint.”

He said that’s as much as states and native governments, and the committee senators had no role in it. That time was certainly one of the less controversial ones in the course of the hearing, with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., saying Congress would pass no laws on the subject, but adding, “I do think it’s essential to carry a committee like this to discuss with these larger issues.”

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Unwell., enumerated those issues during his opening remarks and throughout the hearing.

“Book banning has reached recent heights over the past two years,” Durbin said. “Local leaders in states comparable to Texas, Florida, Utah, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and others have all recently enacted laws facilitating banning books in local school districts and libraries.”

Teachers self-censoring books:

Grappling with recent law, fearful Florida teachers tossing books, resellers say

State releases book ban list:

These 5 books banned from Florida school shelves might surprise you

So what’s happening in Florida?

School districts across Florida have purged titles from their library shelves since DeSantis signed the Curriculum Transparency Act last 12 months. It got here as COVID-19 controversies brought more attention to what was happening in schools, especially from conservative activists and groups like Mothers for Liberty. DeSantis touted the law as a option to increase parental involvement in education and stop “indoctrination.” It requires districts to catalog every book they provide and put a proper review process in place for complaints.

Florida school districts saw 386 book removals from 1,218 total objections last 12 months, in line with a recently-released list from the Florida Department of Education.

Books like “And Tango Makes Three,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” and “Push” by Sapphire got placed on the chopping block. So did titles like “Christian, the Hugging Lion,” a 32-page kid’s book about two men who raise a lion named Christian in a London apartment.

Then got here House Bill 1069, which took effect July 1, creating wildly-varying interpretations on what books must be faraway from schools — and putting in query much more books. The law requires school districts to remove inside five days any book challenged for including pornography or sexual conduct until the criticism is resolved.

“No one’s talking about interfering with the precise of a parent to find out what type of material his or her child must have access to,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii.

The problem, she said, were groups and individuals – not even students’ parents – attempting to get books taken off school shelves.

“There are states which have already enacted laws that makes it pretty easy for anybody to go in and list a book as inappropriate and due to this fact removed until it goes through some kind of review process,” Hirono said. “I’m specifically talking about Florida, for example.”

Bandying about ‘ban’

The 2 sides couldn’t even agree on the term “book bans” in the course of the meeting.

“To place it bluntly, books aren’t being banned,” said Max Eden, certainly one of the Republicans’ witnesses and a research fellow for the American Enterprise Institute. Eden, who has done research disputing book ban claims, pointed to how removed books could still be purchased on Amazon. He said that almost all of the books claimed to be banned by national book access advocates are still at school libraries.

But, for books which might be removed, he said communities must draw a line somewhere. He went on to read an explicit passage from “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir and manifesto by George M. Johnson, who reflects on growing up Black and queer. It’s listed as certainly one of the nation’s most banned books by PEN America, a national free expression organization.

“Personally, I’m by no means troubled that some mothers imagine that is inappropriate, and that some school boards agree, and I find it type of weird that america Senate is troubled enough to call a hearing about all this,” Eden said.

DeSantis has taken an analogous tack in responding to the controversy. He’s maintained that the thought of book bans across Florida, which have made many headlines, is a “hoax.” Conversely, though, he’s bashed books which were recently restricted in public schools as pornographic, violent or otherwise inappropriate.

“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is essential since it reveals that some try to make use of our schools for indoctrination,” DeSantis said in a press release. “In Florida, pornographic and inappropriate materials which were snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.”

None of this gave Democrats and their witnesses pause in using the term.

“We’d like to take any hint of censorship seriously, because free speech isn’t only crucial to democracy, but imperative to the survival of our civilization,” said Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias drafted a law that made Illinois the primary state to “outlaw book bans.”

“Our laws establishes a transparent path opposite and away from the damaging trend to ban and censor books that a small, but loud, few disagree with,” he said. Durbin said he hopes other states will follow Illinois’ example.

It’s concerning the First Amendment, said Emily Knox, a library and data sciences professor on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the chair of the National Coalition Against Censorship’s board.

“Our right to talk, write, publish and skim are all protected by the structure,” she said. “This right isn’t based on whether or not people agree with the ideas being expressed.”

Knox pointed to 2022 data from the American Library Association’s Office for Mental Freedom that found, of the 1000’s of titles targeted for censorship, a “overwhelming majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and folks of color.”

Republicans change the topic

During his opening statement, after a pair minutes talking concerning the hearing’s topic, Sen. Graham modified the subject.

“Here’s what we must be talking about,” he said, right before a poster board was propped behind him, labeled, “BIDEN BORDER CRISIS.”

A squabble ensued, about what had and hadn’t been done by the parties on illegal immigration.

“I’d prefer to get this committee involved in attempting to fix this problem,” Graham said. Durbin accepted his invitation, putting an end to the back-and-forth after about 16 minutes.

Some Republicans, like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, said it’s big tech that should be checked out.

“I’m glad we’re having this hearing today,” he said. “I hope that we’ll have more prefer it to reveal the censorship happening at our highest levels of presidency.”

He referred to a Louisiana federal judge recently restricting some branches of the Biden administration from communicating or meeting with certain social media platforms about content moderation.

The ruling got here in response to a lawsuit brought by GOP attorneys general alleging that government officials, under the guise of curbing misinformation, colluded with social media platforms to remove conservative voices and viewpoints, including posts concerning the COVID pandemic and Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Durbin, in closing, said everyone on the committee wanted children to have age-appropriate books.

“There are some serious disagreements, nevertheless, about what content is objectionable; it’s inevitable and healthy for a democracy,” he said. “We’d like to work together as a rustic to attempt to create clearer standards for access to books in order that nobody individual could cause a book to be banned for a whole community.”

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