Texas Book Banning Law Faces Legal Challenge

Texas Book Banning Law

Texas Book Banning Law: The Rising Controversy

The tumultuous climate surrounding a recently passed law in Texas, aimed at imposing a rating system on books based on their sexual content, has escalated to the federal level. The “Book Ban“, as it’s colloquially referred to, is now the subject of a federal lawsuit initiated by an alliance of book industry professionals and advocates. See the full complaint here.

Details of the Law

This law, poised to come into effect from September 1, casts a wide net over “library material vendors”. It places the onus on booksellers and publishers to evaluate and categorize books sold to schools and libraries within Texas. The lawsuit, a significant document spanning 28 pages, alleges the law’s content restrictions to be sweeping, vague, and constitutionally infringing.

Constitutional Rights at Stake

The litigants claim that the law infringes upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, giving the state an overly broad power to label books as ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘sexually relevant’. The end result could lead to constitutionally protected materials being outlawed for sale by vendors, with no avenue for appeal or judicial review.

Behind the Lawsuit

This law, also called the “Reader Act” and formerly known as HB 900, was passed in April and signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott in June. The lawsuit has been launched by two bookstores in Texas, Austin’s BookPeople and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, along with several industry groups including the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Interpreting the Law

A particularly troubling clause in the law mandates vendors to review and rate books – both existing inventory and new arrivals – as “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant”. A book can be labeled as “sexually explicit” if it includes content deemed offensive by community standards. Meanwhile, any sexual conduct portrayed in a book makes it “sexually relevant”. The law prohibits vendors from selling books rated “sexually explicit” to schools. Also, the provision of “sexually relevant” books to students would require written parental consent.

Power of the State

Adding to the complexity, the state can override a vendor’s rating, essentially setting a state standard for book content. There’s no requirement for state transparency and no appeal process in place. Vendors failing to adhere to the state’s rating can be barred from selling to Texas schools.

Implications for Small Businesses

The economic implications for local businesses, particularly small ones, have also been highlighted. The law’s requirement for each book to be individually assessed and rated has been called out as both unfeasible and taxing. This could pose a significant threat to the survival and sustainability of small businesses.

Impact on Education

An additional layer of concern is the preemptive removal of books from teachers’ classroom libraries by several school districts, in anticipation of the law. This move has intensified the ongoing clash between proponents of free speech and those favoring state-regulated content.

The Bigger Picture

This lawsuit is seen as part of a broader, intensifying effort to counteract the growing trend of book bans and legislative attacks on the freedom to read, which is politically motivated in some instances. According to PEN America, Texas is currently leading the nation in book bans. The implications of the Texas lawsuit, both immediate and long-term, could have a major impact on free speech, education, and local business dynamics across the United States.

References

Richard Lowe

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