from the well-fuck-the-Constitution-I-guess dept
I continue to be sickened and saddened that this country — considered the Land of the Free — continues to devolve (rapidly!) into a place where intolerance and bigotry are being written into law. And all it took was a four-year calamity headed up by one of the worst presidents in history, Donald Trump.
His acolytes have decided the best way to please the basest members of their voter base (as well as curry favor with Trump) is to convert their hatred into law in order to punish the people they like the least, which is apparently anyone who isn’t heterosexual.
I’ve expressed my displeasure at length more than once. And, as much as I’d like to do it again, I won’t. It’s not going to win over the bigots. And it’s not going to add more clarity to the issues. Those who can see what’s going on clearly understand. Those who want to pretend this is what America should be clearly prefer the heavy hand of the Taliban, even while viewing anyone adhering to the Islamic faith as inherently suspicious.
This is only one of the latest attacks on certain members of the American public. There are similar efforts in progress or enacted elsewhere in the country. Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, signed Senate File 496 into law in May. According to the bill’s preamble, it’s a law that’s supposed to give parents more control over what their kids are exposed to, either via public libraries or classroom instruction. But the law makes it crystal clear it is only meant to harm certain people.
Before we even get to the book bans and speech restrictions foisted on teachers, we can catch a whiff of the intolerance the law propels by what it removes from the law it’s amending.
The health curriculum shall include the characteristics of communicable diseases
including acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Not exactly subtle. Students will still be taught about communicable diseases, but conspicuously they will no longer receive information about a communicable disease that has killed more than 40 million people worldwide and currently affects roughly the same number of people. Why is this disease no longer suitable subject matter? Well, one has to assume it’s because it’s one that has affected homosexual men most frequently.
That’s in the first few paragraphs of the law: a deliberate attempt to wish one particular disease into the collective cornfield maintained by hateful, powerful people in the Iowa government.
It manages to get worse from there. The law won’t even allow educators to talk about how to prevent or manage this disease.
The health curriculum shall include age-appropriate and research-based information regarding the characteristics of sexually transmitted diseases,
including HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Truly disgusting. Life-saving information will be withheld from Iowa students because their government simply does not like non-heterosexuals.
There’s more. There are also a few new First Amendment violations, as Courthouse News reports in its coverage of the first constitutional challenge filed against the state:
Among other things, the new law requires public school districts to ban books and materials containing descriptions or depictions of “sex acts” from all Iowa school libraries except for certain religious texts, such as the Bible, and forbids mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the sixth grade, in or outside of the classroom. And, the law requires teachers, counselors, and other school staff to report to parents if a student asks to be referred to by names or pronouns that align with their gender identity.
Yes, these are all things that should be sued over. And they are all things that legislators — if they weren’t so blinded by their own bigotry and desire to ingratiate themselves to the bigots in their voting bloc — would have realized weren’t actually things the government is permitted to do.
And that has already resulted in plenty of action from entities that should never have been forced to do this sort of thing in the first place.
Although the law has already gone into effect, some penalty provisions that subject school administrators and staff to disciplinary action do not kick in until Jan. 1. Still, school districts are scrambling to figure out how to comply. The Des Moines suburb of Urbandale initially identified 374 books for removal before that was pared down to 64. Mason City in northern Iowa used the AI tool ChatGPT to identify targeted books and pulled 19 books from school shelves.
The first lawsuit [PDF] arrived on November 28, featuring a long list of plaintiffs represented by the ACLU:
GLBT YOUTH IN IOWA SCHOOLS TASK FORCE d/b/a/ IOWA SAFE SCHOOLS; P.B.-P., by his parent andnext friend, BELINDA SCARROTT; P.C. and A.C., by their parents and next friends, RICHARD and ULRIKE CARLSON; T.S., by her parent and next friend, ERIC SAYLOR; B.F.S., by their parents and next friends, BRIGIT and JOSEPH STEVENS; ROBERT SMITH, by his parents and next friends, JANE and JOHN SMITH; B.F., by their parent and next friend, LARA NEWSOM; JAMES DOE, by his parent and next friend, JOHN DOE
It’s also a depressing list. Most of the plaintiffs are minors — ones expecting to be negatively affected by the new law, a new law that refuses to treat them as people worthy or rights, much less respect. They have to sue because failing to act means continuing their education in a system that now features codified intolerance.
From the lawsuit:
On its face, in its intent and purpose, and as applied, SF 496 forces educators to silence their LGBTQ+ students and deny them access to books, information, and ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity. SF 496’s vague and overbroad language invites arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on the rights of Plaintiffs and other LGBTQ+ students, stigmatizing them, preventing them from associating with one another for purposes of mutual support, education, and advocacy, and depriving them of the comfort of knowing that other LGBTQ+ people exist and are happy and healthy members of our community.
Certainly, the state and its lawyers will disagree that this is the intent and purpose of the law. But it’s right there in the law, starting with its deliberate excision of a single transmittable disease from school health curriculum. Everything else follows from that.
In addition to the erasure of AIDS, LGBTQ content, and any recognition of human sexual identity that differs from the on/off delusion of two sexes these legislators cling to, the law is already removing literature from libraries that has long been considered essential reading.
Some school districts even have banned books considered part of the canon for students taking the AP Literature and Composition Exam, including As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Classics commonly taught in curricula across the country—such as Grendel by John Gardner, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and Animal Farm by George Orwell—also appear on the banned book lists of multiple districts, compromising students’ education. Novels that were taught almost universally to previous generations of Iowans already have been struck from shelves across the state…
That’s only a very small part of this 96-page lawsuit. The First Amendment implications are clear. This law never should have been passed.
If the state doesn’t care about the health and happiness of a few students and/or their legal representatives from the ACLU, it might be forced to pretend to care now that some plaintiffs with considerable weight have entered the arena. Two days after the ACLU suit, major book publishers filed one of their own.
Penguin Random House, along with four authors whose work it publishes, a parent, teachers and school librarians, sued the state in federal court in Des Moines Thursday arguing the statute, Senate File 496, enacted in 2023, violates the plaintiffs’ First and 14th Amendment rights. The complaint names as defendants state education officials and two Iowa school districts.
The list of plaintiffs in this lawsuit [PDF] leads off with the big one: Penguin Random House. Following that is a short list of authors and then another big one, the Iowa State Education Association — the union representing the educators who are being told they can’t talk about certain things and they can’t provide access to certain content.
As the lawsuit explains to the deliberately obtuse legislators who passed the bill and the governor who enacted the law, the First Amendment simply doesn’t allow this.
The right to speak and the right to read are inextricably intertwined. Just as authors have the right to communicate their ideas to students without undue interference from the government, students have a corresponding right to receive those ideas. Publishers and educators connect authors to students. If the government dislikes an author’s idea, it can offer a competing message. It cannot shut down the marketplace of ideas.
The law is so badly and broadly written it cannot hope to survive this challenge. And, as this lawsuit notes, it’s not just the First Amendment at play here.
First, under the pretext of protecting students from “pornography,” Senate File 496 prohibits books in school libraries and classroom collections that contain a description or visual depiction of a “sex act.” This restriction applies to all grades, kindergarten through twelfth grade, without consideration of the book as a whole, only excepting religious books. By so broadly regulating the display and availability of books that are constitutionally protected as to at least a significant number of students, this standard violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is an impermissible content-based restriction, restricts access to constitutionally protected books, and is unconstitutionally vague.
Second, a portion of Senate File 496 also appears, and is being interpreted by Iowa school districts, to prohibit books in school libraries and classroom collections that “relate” to “gender identity” or “sexual orientation.” This sweeping prohibition defines gender identity and sexual orientation so broadly that the prohibition could apply to all gender identities and any depiction of a romantic relationship. This prohibition violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is an impermissible content-based restriction and is unconstitutionally vague. In practice this prohibition appears to have been intended to apply, and has been applied, to remove only books containing LGBTQ+ themes or characters or those written by authors within the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, this prohibition also violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it discriminates against LGBTQ+ viewpoints and authors.
This law won’t escape judicial review intact. But the bigotry that propels this sort of legislation will live on. This failure to silence certain people will be treated as blow against heterosexuality and mainstream Christianity by its proponents. They will claim — despite all evidence to the contrary — that they’re the victims here. That they’re the ones being subjected to malicious abuses of power. We can only hope fewer and fewer people will align themselves with these hateful idiots. Governments that do this sort of thing are playing with house money. The only thing that will truly deter them is showing them the door during the next election.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, aids, book bans, free speech, iowa, libraries, speech suppression