Florida bill would instantly ban books based on a single objection from one resident
Ron DeSantis (AFP)

Florida has attracted nationwide controversy as new censorship measures put in place by Gov. Ron DeSantis have driven some schools to empty their bookshelves to keep up with a wave of right-wing activists demanding the review of any books mentioning racial or sexual orientation issues.

In fact, things have gotten so extreme that one school was even forced to pull a documentary about civil rights icon Ruby Bridges.

But things could just be getting started. As Greg Sargent noted in The Washington Post on Wednesday, a new bill advancing in the legislature with DeSantis' support could formally require schools to ban any book, pending review, if even a single parent complains about it.

"The provision is buried in a bill that’s already received attention for another reason: It would expand the state’s 'don’t say gay' law prohibiting classroom discussion of sex and gender up to high school — well beyond the initial goal of limiting discussion only through third grade," wrote Sargent. "That’s bad, but the book-banning provision, which has attracted far less attention, makes it worse. That part of the bill mandates that instructional material facing objection in public schools through 12th grade for depicting 'sexual' or 'pornographic' conduct be 'unavailable to students until the objection is resolved.'"

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"This means books and other materials would be removed before something akin to due process occurs," wrote Sargent. Furthermore, "such objections could be lodged not just by a parent, but any resident in the county, meaning anyone could get a book removed more easily than before."

Furthermore, Sargent noted, the bill is written so broadly that virtually anything can be challenged as "pornographic." For instance, "Take the case of “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Toni Morrison. In at least one Florida county — Pinellas — parental objections have already resulted in the book being banned from schools because it features a rape scene, even though students protested that it was important to their education." And the challenges take months to resolve, leaving books banned in the meantime and creating an environment in which teachers are afraid to introduce any controversial subject.

DeSantis, facing growing protest and negative press attention as he prepares to launch a 2024 presidential bid, has shot back, calling it a "hoax" that Florida schools are seeing a wave of book bans — even though it is very much not a hoax.

Ultimately, it could become a serious liability for him, wrote Sargent.

"DeSantis probably calculates that this would serve his short-term political interests. Headlines about banned books — and liberal outrage in response — will bolster him among GOP primary voters," wrote Sargent. "But those elites are also backing DeSantis because he supposedly can win back suburban voters alienated by Trump. And national stories about the latest book-banning frenzy would probably undermine that suburban appeal ... it’s likely he will have to answer for the whims of these petty functionaries when their efforts run off the rails."