The Florida book banners are back

March 20, 2019 7:00 am

Andy Marlette cartoon for the Florida Phoenix

Ignorance marches on in Florida, meeting with little or no resistance from your state legislature.

They’re thinking of banning books again.

A bill birthed in the febrile minds of an outfit called the Florida Citizens Alliance, HB855/SB1454 would allow parents to insist school districts protect innocent tykes from the knowledge that anthropogenic climate change is real, we are indeed kin to monkeys, slavery was not a good thing, American history is not an unbroken string of righteous behavior, some people are born gay or bisexual or transsexual, and humans have sex.

Even worse: humans actually like sex.

The bill would define “child pornography” as “any image or text depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct.” So no Shakespeare: Juliet is only 13! No Pride and Prejudice–Lydia Bennett is 15 when she gets it on with a soldier. Alice Walker, Geoffrey Chaucer, Judy Blum, Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, Emily Bronte, Zora Neale Hurston–y’all out of here.

“Deviate sexual intercourse,” depictions of nudity (goodbye 3000 years of Western Art), and descriptions of “sexual excitement” are also verboten in this bill–which could turn into a hot evangelical-on-evangelical issue since there’s also a bill to allow Florida schools to offer a course on the Bible, which, were it to pass, would fall foul of the Hill-Mayfield measure.

I mean, check out the Old Testament: you’ve got Lot pimping out two of his daughters, then bumping uglies with the other two; you’ve got pervy King David watching Bathsheba naked; and all that erotic talk in the Song of Solomon: breasts like “fawns,” testicles compared to “a bag of myrrh,” joyful oral sex, and not one word about sin.

So the Bible might find itself cast out, along with The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s great 1899 story of female empowerment, Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of hideous poverty in Ireland and America, Angela’s Ashes, and anything by Nobel Prize novelist Toni Morrison.

Rep. Mike Hill of Pensacola and Rep. Debbie Mayfield, co-sponsors of HB 855, appear to be obsessed with women’s sexuality and determined to control it. Mayfield has long supported forced ultrasounds and waiting periods before a woman can get an abortion. Hill is sponsor of a bill that would outlaw abortions after 6 weeks when doctors detect a fetal heartbeat.

To these two paid-up members of the Anti-Thinking League, guns are good, sex is suspect, and questioning the fundamental goodness of white, Christian America, the exceptional nation chosen by God, is flat-out evil. Their bill wouldn’t only prohibit great works of literature which deal with human sexuality as part of life, it would make it easier for Anti-Thinking parents to prohibit textbooks that dare to present evolution as the best description of human development or point out that that fossil fuels have something to do with melting ice at the poles.

The Florida Citizens Alliance, source of this anti-intellectual malarkey, worries that children are being “indoctrinated” into rationalism and collectivism by the fact-based crypto-Marxist “education establishment.”

Jesus, you teach them about greenhouse gases and ocean acidification, and next thing you know, a kid might want to shun unfettered capitalism and become a climate scientist.

And if students read stuff like Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a tragic, beautiful novel of slavery which, according to the FCA is full of “steamy sex” and “references to sexually molesting animals,” the youth of Florida might question the glory of our past and the unalloyed virtue of white people.

Keep on like that and they might start hating Christmas. Worse, they might start thinking about sex almost as much as the FCA does: their 2018 “Curriculum Assessment” quotes breathlessly and extensively from the books it wants removed, lingering on detailed scenes of heavy bosoms and multiple penetrations and whatnot.

It’s tempting to laugh at the FCA, but they’ve become major players. Last year they scored with a law, signed by then-governor Rick Scott, that allows anyone in a school district to challenge educational materials. Two FCA members served on new governor Ron DeSantis’ education advisory panel. They’re government insiders now, not as powerful as the NRA and Big Ag, but budding manipulators of facts, hostile to science, in love with ignorance.

The thing is, ignorance hurts us all: physically, emotionally, financially. If the FCA succeeds in making sex education less comprehensive and harder to get (as the Hill-Mayfield bill promises), if our students don’t learn real science or real history, if they don’t read the novels that help them understand the multiplicity of ways to be a human being, we will have raised a generation of psychically stunted,  uninformed yokels alienated from their own bodies, unable to analyze the world and incapable of solving the enormous problems of the 21st century.

They’ll be natural Trump voters, but lousy citizens.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.