In a lawsuit filed Tuesday at an Austin federal court, two Texas bookstores and three national booksellers file a suit over House Bill 900, which seeks to ban “sexually explicit” material from school libraries.
The law passed the legislature earlier this year and is set to go into effect on Sept.1 after it was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The law requires book vendors to start rating books depending on the presence, depictions or references to sex.
School libraries with “sexually explicit” ratings will be removed from bookshelves and if any students want to read books from the library that are labeled “sexually relevant” will need to get a parent’s permission before checking it out.
Austin’s BookPeople and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop along with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are the plaintiffs in the suit.
They argue that HB 900 is a violation of their First and 14th Amendment rights by regulating free speech with “vague and overbroad” terms.
They say that the law forces them to comply with the government’s view even though they might not agree and that the law works as a prior restraint — a governmental action that prohibits speech or other action before the speech can happen
“The book ban establishes an unconstitutional regime of compelled speech, retaliation, and licensing that violates clear First Amendment precedent and this country’s history of fostering a robust marketplace of ideas,” the complaint says.
They are suing Martha Wong, chair of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Keven Ellis, chair of the Texas State Board of Education; and Mike Morath, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, who will be the defendants in the suit.
The consuming number of books will make it impossible for the bookstores to comply with the rating system HB 900 requires, the CEOs of both bookstores say. In a statement Charley Rejsek, CEO of BookPeople, said that the amount of books they’d have to rate is too much.
The three bookseller associations in a joint statement said that they aren’t questioning that students should get age-appropriate content but that they don’t believe that HB 900 will be able to accomplish that.
“It robs parents, schools and teachers from across the state of Texas of the right to make decisions for their respective communities and classrooms, instead handing that role to a state entity and private businesses,” the statement says.
The complaint also mentions that HB 900 will place “additional economic pressure” on small bookstores in Texas which plaintiffs believe would “shatter” them.
Cindi Castilla, president of conservative think tank Texas Eagle Forum, a supporter of HB 900, presented the proposal for the bill as a child protection bill.
In May, during a Senate education committee hearing, Castilla said that taxpayers should not be funding books that contain explicit material in them because they are educationally unsuitable for students.
“Our schools must not sexualize our students or provide them pornographic reading material or introduce them to inappropriate materials that distract from the educational goals we’ve set as a state,” she said.
Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), one of the lawmakers who support the bill, said that HB 900 should be used as a “tool” to address “harmful sexually explicit material” by communities.
Those who oppose HB 900 have been worried that by attacking “sexually explicit material” in books, lawmakers are specifically targeting LGBTQ+ themed books, including books like “Calvin” and “Being Jazz.”
In May, Texas Library Association and individual libraries across the state, along with many librarians and booksellers, testified in the House and Senate, saying that the bill would slow down books acquired by school libraries.
“Such oversight has not been needed in the past and is not needed now,” said Mark Smith, the former director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, according to the Texas Tribune. “The bill will interfere with student learning and achievement by blocking access to materials that have been restricted.”