National freedom-to-read group: Florida leading the spike in book bans

A stack of books found on frequently banned book lists wrapped in caution tape.
State officials say the notion there are widespread book bans is part of a 'hoax' promulgated by those who want to indoctrinate children.

The state has moved to the No. 1 position — surpassing Texas — in keeping books out of students’ hands, according to the findings of a 100-year-old organization dedicated to protecting free expression.

PEN America counted 1,406 Florida book bans spread over 33 of the state’s 67 school districts from July 2022 to June 2023, accounting for more than 40% of all book bans in the country. That’s an increase from the 566 book bans the New York City-based organization counted in Florida last year. And the number could likely grow in the following report.

New legislation (HB 1069) took effect July 1, which Democratic lawmakers warned could lead to crusaders taking every library book off the shelf while they undergo review.

The group said that Florida is providing the playbook for other states to follow.

The reading freedom organization chalks up the growing number of books restricted from school libraries to vaguely worded legislation that allows groups, such as Florida-founded Moms for Liberty, to raise objections about books’ content.

PEN America found that themes of violence and physical abuse were the most common subject matter for banned content 48% of the time last year. Topics on health and well-being for students came in second, accounting for 42% of the restricted content.

The movement deprives young adults and children of the opportunity to engage in the real world and develop the freedom to think, PEN America officials said.

“More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s CEO.

 “Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids,” Nossel added. “By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials have called the notion that books are being banned in the state “a hoax” that’s being perpetuated by the forces trying to indoctrinate children.

“Exposing the ‘book ban’ hoax is important because it reveals that some are attempting to use our schools for indoctrination,” DeSantis said in a news release from the Governor’s Office. “In Florida, pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards. 

PEN America says they define “book ban” as an attempt to override the decisions that educators and librarians have made for what’s appropriate at various age levels. When the latest bill was being debated, Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia noted he would be jailed if he texted a 10-year-old a picture of some of the contest being consumed in school libraries.

Yet, 75% of the banned content was written and selected for young audiences, according to Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director and lead author of the report.

“Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric continues to ignite fear over the types of books in schools,” Meehan said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • ScienceBLVR

    September 21, 2023 at 8:16 am

    Every educator I know finds this surge of anti literature thought very disturbing. Call it a book ban, misguided misinformed parents rights, or plain old racism and prejudice. It is not a hoax. In Pinellas, my district, parents have always had the right to have their child opt out of any assigned literature or lesson. And parents can easily access any course syllabus and assignments list so they know what to object ti. As a parent you can make those decisions for your children, but you shouldn’t get to make the decision for other parents. And gee we have this thing called the internet…to worry about themes or words in books exposing kids to bad things is really quite quaint!
    To call teachers groomers and agents of indoctrination is the real hoax here.

    • Rick Whitaker

      September 21, 2023 at 11:43 am

      teachers are heroes, book banners are anti-heroes. “moms for liberty” is a misnomer, it should be “moms of Gilead”

  • Michael K

    September 21, 2023 at 8:37 am

    Make no mistake: These radical right-wing groups fully intend to ban books, people, and any idea they deem “offensive.” They are destroying public education by siphoning money into unaccountable private religious schools. This latest iteration of the “new confederacy” has never gotten over the de-segregation of public education.

    Florida is in a race to the bottom by fostering ignorance and intolerance.

    • Rick Whitaker

      September 21, 2023 at 11:50 am

      florida (desantistan) has already won the race to the bottom. my state, is near the bottom because of governor bill lee and senator marsha blackburn. two big time losers

  • My Take

    September 21, 2023 at 10:10 am

    The old neighborhood scoĺds,n
    Empowered by rightwing cowards.
    Afraid of well-educated children.

  • PeterH

    September 21, 2023 at 10:42 am

    FREEDUMB… just another word!

    Republicans are America’s worst enemy!

    Vote all Republicans out of office!

  • Tricia Allison

    September 25, 2023 at 5:14 pm

    My basic question to you commenters, HAVE YOU READ FROM THE BOOK LIST? Have you seen the graphics, have you heard what Sen. Kennedy read outloud on television and was bleeped? Have you seen the videos where the schoolboard refused to hear the readings by parents because it was too OBSCENE? In other words, DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT or are you just repeating what you’ve been told by the media. ?

    • Joe

      September 27, 2023 at 1:45 pm

      Take a look in the mirror, Tricia, it’s pretty clear you get all your information from the right-wing media swamp. Go cry about it at your local Moms for Nazism chapter meeting.

    • Joe

      September 27, 2023 at 1:49 pm

      Also the black hat in your FB profile photo looks ridiculous.

    • Mother Superior Slapshot, Bishop Hedman Academy

      September 30, 2023 at 2:51 pm

      Oh goodness gracious, my dear Miss Tricia Allison, you do pull your belt a bit tight, don’t you? You are yelling at your fellow commenters in caps because they have expressed opinions, the overall consensus being that we (yes, include me) are not proud that our State of Florida is leading the banning of books. Aside from that, a writing lesson: You begin by saying “My basic question…” — which promises the reader you have one question, singular, and yet you go on to cram in six questions. So now, how is the reader to trust a woman who can’t keep her promises? Now, now, stop tugging at that belt, dear, and bless your heart.

Comments are closed.


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