A federal judge Thursday said Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office can argue in support of the Escambia County School Board during a Jan. 10 hearing in a battle about removing or restricting school library books.
Moody’s office Wednesday asked U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell to allow it to participate in the hearing, which will focus on a request by the Escambia school board to dismiss the lawsuit filed by seven parents of schoolchildren, five authors, the publishing company Penguin Random House and the free-speech group PEN America.
The plaintiffs contend that school board decisions to remove or restrict access to library books violated First Amendment and constitutional equal-protection rights. In seeking to take part in the hearing, Moody’s office said it would argue that the school board’s “decision to remove certain books from Escambia County’s public-school libraries is government speech not subject to First Amendment scrutiny.”
To try to bolster that argument, it will use an Oct. 27 ruling by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case stemming from the Miami Beach city manager ordering the removal of a piece of artwork from a city-organized event.
The appeals court rejected arguments that the removal violated First Amendment rights, saying governments “are not obliged to display any particular artwork in the art exhibitions that they fund, organize, and promote.”
In a document filed Wednesday in the Escambia County case, Moody’s office cited the Miami Beach ruling. It said the request to dismiss the Escambia County lawsuit “likewise argues that governmental choices in another compilation of otherwise private speech — the shelves of a public-school library — are government speech.”
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