Book bans seek to enlist the power of the state to dictate what each of us and our families can or cannot read – and are therefore in stark contradiction to the First Amendment and our pluralist democracy.
This is the message delivered by FIRE and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation in a amici curiae Short filed today in a Virginia state court hearing whether two award-winning books, Maia Kobabe”Gender Queer” and Sarah J. Maas”A court of mist and furyare legally obscene.
Book bans are contrary to the First Amendment and the pluralistic values it protects.
In May, two Virginia politicians filed a motion against the books in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, soliciting statements of obscenity that under state law would prohibit bookstores from selling either of these works. Their request invoked a rarely used state law that allows Virginians to pursue books and to compel their publishers and authors to defend them in court. After a retired state judge finds ‘probable cause’ that the works are ‘obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors’, the petitioners sought temporary restraining orders to prohibit the commercial distribution of the book.
In today’s brief, FIRE and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation assert that neither book comes close to constituting obscenity as defined for minors under long-running state and federal precedent. date. The books “will not appeal or have value for all public,” we acknowledge, but the First Amendment only requires that books have “value for a public” – and both clearly do.
Additionally, FIRE and Woodhull argue that book bans are contrary to the First Amendment and the pluralistic values it protects:
Some readers will choose not to purchase or read the books at issue in this case. Some retailers and librarians will refuse to put them on the shelves. Our Constitution reserves these choices for individuals and prohibits them for the state. In our pluralistic democracy, the First Amendment prescribes a remedy for audiences offended by protected speech: Those who seek to avoid “sensitivity bombardment” can do so “simply by averting their eyes.” Cohen v. California, 403 US 15, 21 (1971). Declaring books obscene because they include discussions or depictions of sex would revive a discredited era of censorship repudiated by decades of Supreme Court precedent.
Linking the “current national push to ban books dealing with sexuality, identity and other controversial topics” to the “growing comfort with censorship that friend FIRE has fought for over twenty years on campuses across the country,” our brief argues for freedom of thought.
To keep politicians from deciding for the rest of us what our families can read, we’re asking the court to remember what we’ve told college administrators for years: Subjective offense doesn’t justify censorship. .
Read our file.