Chaz Stevens urges Florida schools to ban the Bible in petition

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It was Florida’s decision to reject 54 math textbooks for “banned subjects” that decided Chaz Stevens: it was time to tackle the Bible.

Stevens, a 57-year-old tech whiz with a history of goofy political stunts, had previously been following the progress of a new state law that makes it easier for parents and county residents to challenge books in schools. . The provision, which comes amid an unprecedented national spike in challenges to the books — especially those by and about LGBTQ and black people — was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in late March. It takes effect on July 1. But Stevens decided he couldn’t wait a moment longer.

On Wednesday, he filed nearly identical petitions with 63 Florida school districts calling for the Bible to be banned. He also filed a second petition with a district, Broward County Public Schools, requesting the removal of the Oxford English Dictionary.

His three-page petition criticizes the Bible for its portrayals of bestiality and cannibalism, its “breathtaking passages of babies crushed against rocks” in Psalms 137, and its “strong pro-slavery stance”, citing Ephesians 6:5-7.

“As the Bible casually mentions…subjects such as murder, adultery, sexual immorality and fornication – or as I like to think, Date Night Friday Night – do we really want to teach our young drunken orgies?” asks the petition.

Schools across the country are quietly removing books from their libraries

Stevens’ subsequent complaint against the dictionary calls it “a heavy tome over 1,000 years old, containing over 600,000 words; this is all very troubling if we try to keep our young people from learning more about race, gender, sex, etc.

Although Stevens’ petitions are ironic, legal experts said his actions highlight flaws and constitutional concerns surrounding Florida’s new law and others like it — and could lead to serious litigation down the line.

Erica Goldberg, a University of Dayton Law School professor who studies First Amendment rights, said Stevens’ petitions may show that the new law can cause school boards to engage in “point discrimination.” of view” or to delete information because of the aversion to the ideas it contains, which is prohibited by the Supreme Court.

She noted that the Bible is replete with episodes of sexual violence and abuse, including the rape of Dinah in Genesis, which led her brothers Levi and Simeon to kill all the men in the city of Shechem to avenge her honor; the incestuous rape of Tamar, King David’s daughter, by her half-brother Amnon; and the brutal dismemberment of a concubine in The Judges. She said the Bible is at least as sexually explicit as some of the books parents say are inappropriate, raising the question: why can the Bible stay in the library when those books have to go?

“This stunt will shine a light,” she added. “Many of our First Amendment rights are undermined by marginal cases or by people seeking to make statements.”

Florida’s new law is part of a broader wave of Republican-led activism that aims to restrict what teachers can say — and students can read — about topics including gender identity, sexuality , race and racism. Red states pass laws restricting education on these subjects while adults across the country file a record number of requests to ban books dealing with these subjects.

Florida law prohibits in school libraries, reading lists and classroom instructional materials any text that is “pornographic”, “unsuitable for the needs of students” or “inappropriate for [students’] grade level and age group. It also requires school districts to establish a clear process for parents or county residents to file petitions challenging educational materials.

None of this directly violates the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.

Catherine Ross, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in constitutional law, said public school districts have a very wide latitude in determining what types of instructional materials, such as textbooks or classroom props, appear in school boards. classroom. She said school-level decisions about curricular removals or inclusions are almost “immune to legal challenge.”

But things are more complex when it comes to school libraries.

A Supreme Court majority never ruled on the textbook ban, Ross said. It was in 1982, in the case Board of Education c. picowhen a plurality of courts have ruled that the First Amendment imposes limits on when and how a local school board can remove books from school libraries.

The doctrine that emerged from that decision “says first of all that you should use normal procedures” to remove a book, Ross said. “And then you can’t delete books because they’re controversial or politically or religiously disadvantaged, et cetera.”

As the Supreme Court’s decision stated, “Local school boards cannot remove books from school libraries simply because they don’t like the ideas in those books. Over the years, the selective editing of school materials in this way has become known as viewpoint discrimination.

But schools can remove books because they are not “educationally appropriate for the age group”, Ross added. She said, “Now that’s a huge opening that you could drive a truck through.”

Both Ross and Goldberg of the University of Dayton said Florida law — by requiring districts to formally allow challenges to parent books — will likely increase the number of challenges and, therefore, the number of times where school officials will have to decide if certain books are appropriate. This increases the likelihood of viewpoint discrimination.

“I could definitely see litigation breaking out down the line if parents don’t think schools are handling these complaints fairly,” Goldberg said. “The law requires schools to address these complaints by developing processes, and they’re going to have to fairly crystallize what those processes will be.”

She predicted that Stevens’ actions are just the first salvo in a coming war.

More books are banned than ever before as Congress tackles the issue

So far, Stevens has received responses from three school districts. Two school officials told him he had to be a resident or a parent to file a complaint. Stevens, who lives in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said he plans to recruit people across the state to file complaints.

A third official, Eydie Tricquet, superintendent of the Jefferson County School District, wrote to say his district is still under state control; Florida took over management of the district five years ago due to poor grades, financial problems and personnel issues. But Jefferson is due to return to local control this summer, and Tricquet promised in her email to Stevens that she would consider her request then, in accordance with school board policies and Florida law.

“At present, I have no school or library to place or remove a Bible,” writes Tricquet.

Stevens, whose day job is to run a website that connects people with mental health issues to supports including clinicians and therapy animals, said he knows many people see his efforts to banning the Bible as the latest in a long line of political pranks.

Its colorful history includes a campaign to open city commission meetings with invocations to Satan, the erection of a Festivus pole at the Florida Capitol to protest the Christmas Nativity scene, and the sending of butt plugs to officials who misbehave.

“I’m sorry you’re stuck with me,” he said. “But I don’t see anyone else taking up the challenge, just lots of comments on Twitter.”

He added: “If not me, then who?”

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