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Group urges Florida to prosecute schools over books with sex, LGBTQ references

The Florida Citizens Alliance has long pushed to remove books it finds objectionable.

A conservative group that has had the ear of Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced a new approach in its effort to remove books it deems offensive from Florida’s public schools.

At least one organization is pushing back, saying the Florida Citizens Alliance does not speak for everyone in the state.

The Alliance, based in Naples, has spent several years railing against novels and instructional materials it says do not belong in the hands of minors. The group refers specifically to books that include explicit sex scenes and that include information about LGBTQ relationships, such as gay marriage.

It argues that the sex scenes violate state laws on obscenity, while stories about same-sex parents run afoul of state statute saying marriage may take place only between a man and a woman.

In the past, the Alliance has pressed lawmakers to make it easier for a county’s residents — not just parents — to challenge school books with an eye toward removing them. Over the past few years, the Legislature did just that.

Related: Will Florida legislators make it easier to ban books in schools? We’ll soon find out.

But now, the Alliance contends that the laws are “blatantly ignored in most Florida counties.” So in addition to calling for ever tougher laws on book challenges — so far none have been filed by the group’s usual supporters — the Alliance has also urged the state Attorney General to prosecute schools that make the materials available to school children.

It’s a move reminiscent of the governor’s own decision to convene a grand jury to review whether school districts have complied with state safety and security requirements, and the Department of Education’s threats to hold districts accountable if they fail to comply with laws on required instruction.

“We urge parents to be extremely vigilant on what their kids are reading,” the Alliance said in an announcement released just before winter break. “We demand that the Attorney General enforce existing anti-pornography statutes ... and that the legislature take whatever action is necessary to strengthen existing laws that are being completely ignored by public schools!”

It included a list, complete with examples, of the types of books it is talking about, also stressing these are a sampling and in no way exhaustive. Among the titles are Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslie Newman, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García.

Past efforts by the Florida Citizens Alliance have run into stiff resistance from other organizations that suggest one segment of society should not make decisions for all. They have noted that the obscenity laws the group refers to speak to material that “taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

Many of the books in question are considered serious literature, with the sexual references often a fleeting part of a larger story students are asked to analyze. If families or students oppose the content, in most cases they may request an alternative reading.

This time around, the Atheists of Florida has sent up a flare on the Alliance’s effort.

“While we personally may not like the content of some of these books, should they be banned for everyone?” Judy Adkins, the Atheists’ executive director, said in an email to reporters. “Because they are objected to on religious grounds, should they be banned for all?”

The group has shared the Alliance’s list of challenge books on its own website, under the title “Book Censorship.”

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