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Ban on Texas Statute Censoring Books with Sexual Content for Kids Affirmed by Appeals Court

A federal court has ruled that a Texas law aimed at protecting children from sexually explicit material in schools likely violates the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech.

The READ Act Under Scrutiny

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The law in question is the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act (READER), authored by State Rep. Jared Patterson and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. It was intended to regulate sexually explicit content in public school libraries.

Requirements of the READ Act

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The READ Act mandates public school library vendors to flag books with sexually explicit or relevant content. Books without such content are to be labeled with “no rating.”

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Restrictions on Library Book Checkout

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Under the law, books deemed “sexually relevant” require written parental consent for checkout from school libraries. This measure was set to take effect on September 1, 2023.

Reporting Obligations for Vendors

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Library vendors are required to annually report to the Texas Education Agency a list of materials rated as sexually explicit or relevant. This reporting is part of the law’s oversight mechanism.

Opposition to the Law

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Critics, including two Texas bookstores and national trade associations, argue that the legislation effectively amounts to a book ban. They filed a lawsuit against the measure, naming several Texas education officials as defendants.

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Court’s Ruling on First Amendment Rights

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The appeals court panel, comprising two Republican appointees and one Democrat, agreed that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their claims. They found that the law compels speech from vendors and restricts their business with schools.

Impact of the Law on Vendors’ Speech

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The court noted that the ratings required by the law are considered the speech of the vendors, not the government. The law would force vendors to submit ratings they disagree with and limit their business operations.

Economic Impact of the Law

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The court acknowledged that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable economic injury if the law were enforced. This consideration played a role in the court’s decision to uphold a preliminary injunction against the law.

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Reaction from Plaintiffs

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Following the ruling, the plaintiffs issued a joint statement celebrating the decision. They praised the court for protecting free expression and preventing government overreach.

Mr. Patterson’s Response to the Ruling

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State Rep. Jared Patterson expressed disappointment with the court’s decision. He emphasized the responsibility of book vendors to be aware of the content they distribute, especially to school children.

Implications of the Court’s Decision

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The court’s ruling highlights the ongoing debate over the regulation of educational materials and the balance between protecting children and upholding free speech rights. The decision underscores the complexities involved in legislating content in educational settings.

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