Bleaching Bookshelves: An Analysis of Recent Book Bans in America

By Alyssa Lizarraga 

Hand holding a small sign that reads "This kindle contains explicit content"

In March 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 1467, which, among other conditions, requires all schoolbooks to be reviewed by a district-appointed “media specialist” to ensure they are appropriate for children. Soon after, videos started appearing of empty bookshelves in Florida classrooms and school libraries. Surely, book bans like Florida’s don’t mean every title is suddenly inappropriate. Or do they?

No, they don’t, but teachers weren’t willing to take any chances. In order to make Florida House Bill 1467 appear a little less bigoted and fascist-y, DeSantis cited preexisting Florida Statute 847.012, a criminal obscenity law that makes it a third-degree felony to knowingly distribute “harmful” material to minors. It is crucial to note that the only kind of material that is specifically mentioned as “harmful” in the entire statute is sexually explicit material. I would know: I read the whole statute so that you wouldn’t have to (you’re welcome). Under Statute 847.012, anyone knowingly distributing harmful material to a minor would be convicted of a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a five-year probation period, as well as up to a $5,000 fine.

With that threat looming over them, those very real consequences of defying book bans, teachers took every book off of their shelves, reducing the chance that they would be caught with an “offending” book to zero…

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