A trio of judges on Monday gave the go-ahead for Texas to proceed with a book-ban law, which a Trump-appointed judge had halted earlier this month on constitutional grounds.
Texas’ “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources” (READER) Act requires booksellers to rate sexual content in all books sold to schools. Critics have decried the law as overbroad, unconstitutional, and designed to restrict access to books about gender and LGBTQ issues. Earlier this month, a federal judge sided with publishers who sued to stop the law. The judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the legislation, arguing that the law “likely violates the First Amendment by containing an unconstitutional prior restraint, compelled speech, and unconstitutional vagueness.”
Less than a week later, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overrode that injunction, with a one-sentence administrative order that will allow the READER Act to go into effect.
The ruling, first reported by LawDork, does not enter any argument about the law’s constitutionality. It simply allows the law to proceed.
The READER Act comes amid a national push from right-wing groups and lawmakers to regulate access to books, most of them about race, gender, and sexuality. In Texas, many of those efforts have concentrated on classifying certain popular titles as obscene. In 2src21, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the removal of “pornography” and “other obscene content in Texas public schools.” He cited two books in his letter to education officials. Both were memoirs about LGBTQ characters, the Texas Tribune reported.
The READER Act attempts to further crack down on books that contain sexual content, banning schools from “the possession, acquisition, and purchasing of books rated sexually explicit material,” and permitting “the exclusion from a school library of materials that are pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable.” Those categories are overbroad, argue a coalition of booksellers, publishers, and authors, who filed suit against the law this year. The law would require publishers to review books for any sexual content before they are sold to schools. The law also gives Texas the right to override those ratings and does not offer an appeals process for a book that has been labeled as sexual.
Under the law, literary classics and even the Bible could be banned from Texas schools.
“Legislators expressed concern that the overbroad language of the Book Ban could result in the banning or restricting of access to many classic works of literature, such as Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Ulysses, Jane Eyre, Maus, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, The Canterbury Tales, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and even the Bible,” the plaintiffs argued in their suit.
Even without the law, Texas schools have used allegations of obscenity to restrict access to often-taught books and to punish teachers who teach from those books.
This month, a Texas school fired a teacher who showed her eighth-grade class a graphic novel adaptation of Diary of a Young Girl, the account of teenage Holocaust victim Anne Frank. The school reportedly took issue with a section in which the 13-year-old Frank described curiosity about genitals and breasts.