Five of the biggest book publishers in US join lawsuit challenging Iowa book ban

The publishers said that they are suing Iowa to protect the ‘right to publish and read books’

Amelia Neath
Friday 19 April 2024 13:53 BST
Related: Iowa student wears ‘banned books’ shirt to troll Republican governor

Several big publishing houses have joined Penguin Random House along with renowned authors in a federal lawsuit suing Iowa over a state law that bans certain books in schools and restricts teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have joined Penguin Random House, who initially filed a lawsuit in November against Iowa, completing the line-up of the ‘Big Five’ US publishers on the complaint.

The publisher Sourcebooks has also joined the suit with the other four, with the Iowa State Education Association, four authors, three educators, and one high school student also stated as plaintiffs.

The houses are challenging the state over the book-banning provisions of Senate File 496 in order to “protect the right to publish and read books”, the publishers said in a joint statement on Monday obtained by CNN.

The publishing houses are joined by authors John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak and Shout), Malinda Lo (Last Night at the Telegraph Club) and Jodi Picoult (Nineteen Minutes).

The five publishers who joined the suit issued a joint statement that declared that “we as publishers are uniting in our unwavering commitment to stand with educators, librarians, students, authors, and readers against the unconstitutional censorship measures being imposed by the state of Iowa”.

“The alarming rise of book bans across the country demands our collective action,” their statement continued. “Now, more than ever, we must stand firmly with our authors and readers to defend the fundamental right to read and the freedom of expression.”

Senate File 496 was signed in May last year by Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, creating a law that allows K-12 school libraries only to carry books deemed “age-appropriate”, with the exclusion of any reading material with “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act”.

However, the law has also prohibited any “instruction” relating to gender identity or sexual orientation within schools for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The publishers claimed in their statement that this law has limited access to books, fiction and non-fiction alike, relating to gender identity or sexual orientation.

They claim that books like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Ulysses by James Joyce, among many others, have all been removed from libraries.

The lawsuit, according to CNN, argues that the law denies students of reading books that “portrays and describes critical aspects of the human experience” and it “discriminates against LGBTQ+ viewpoints and authors”.

A federal judge temporarily blocked certain parts of the law from being enforced after he said that the ban on books was “incredibly broad”, and was leading to the removal of history volumes, classics and award-winning novels, even literature that were designed “to help students avoid being victimised by sexual assault”.

Governor Reynolds criticised the ruling, calling it “extremely disappointing”, and promised to “continue to do my part to protect [the] innocence” of young children.

“Instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation has no place in kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms,” she wrote in a release after the law was blocked in December.

“There should be no question that books containing sexually explicit content – as clearly defined in Iowa law – do not belong in a school library for children. The fact that we’re even arguing these issues is ridiculous. The real debate should be about why society is so intent on over-sexualising our young children.”

The Independent has left a message at the office of the governor Kim Reynolds for comment.

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