US federal judge blocks portions of Iowa book ban News
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US federal judge blocks portions of Iowa book ban

US federal Judge Stephen Locher on Friday blocked key provisions of SF 496, an Iowa law prohibiting school libraries from distributing books containing LGBTQ+ and gender identity issues. Judge Locher stated that the law “sweeps so broadly,” that more than 500 books, including literary classics and self-help books, faced removal.

Iowa claimed that the selection of books contained in a library constituted “government speech.” Under the governmental speech doctrine, the government, “is entitled to say what it wishes and select the views it wants to express.” Government speech is not subject to First Amendment free speech protections given that the government functions by passing laws either “favoring or disfavoring” different positions.

Judge Locher rejected the claim. He cited several federal cases designating libraries as “limited public forums” subject to First Amendment scrutiny. As such, “the government may not impose unreasonable or viewpoint-specific restrictions.” Judge Locher stated that a total ban of a book in place of an age or parental permission restriction created an unreasonable burden on students.

The ACLU of Iowa, who represented the plaintiffs, praised the decision, stating that their clients are now “able to continue the school year free from the harm caused by this unconstitutional law.” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) responded to the ruling by saying that “[b]ooks containing sexually explicit content do not belong in a school library.”

SF 496 was passed in May and scheduled to go into effect on January 1. The law prohibited educators from raising gender identity and sexual orientation issues with students through grade six. The law also removes all books depicting sexual acts from school libraries. Religious books were exempted from the ban. Additionally, school administrators are required to notify a student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) if they changed their name or pronouns. This portion of the law remains in effect and was not blocked by Judge Locher’s order.

Several states have been sued over book ban laws. Texas is currently being sued for a “book rating system” that will grade a book based on its sexual content. Arkansas‘ book ban was halted by a federal judge in July for being overly vague. However, some states have passed laws banning book bans. Illinois passed a law in June that eliminated book bans, requiring public libraries in the state to ensure they offer a diverse range of materials.