Federal judge temporarily blocks parts of Iowa law banning books and curriculum discussing LGBTQ issues

From the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. District Judge Steven Locher on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.



CNN

A federal judge has temporarily blocked two sections of an Iowa law that bans books and curricula in schools that discuss gender identity or sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher’s preliminary injunction was filed Friday and blocks two provisions of the law — the book bans and curriculum restrictions — that were set to take effect Jan. 1.

Locher called the ban “incredibly broad” and noted that the law has already resulted in the removal of hundreds of books from Iowa libraries. Those books include Pulitzer Prize winners and nonfiction history books, many of which appear on Advanced Placement exams, and “even books designed to help students avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault,” according to the ruling. The restrictions likely violate the First Amendment, the ruling said.

The law bans books from public school libraries that contain “a description or visual depiction of a sexual act” and also restricts education about gender identity and sexual orientation. It also requires schools to notify parents if their child requests to use a new name or pronoun.

The two provisions blocked by Judge Locher are the ban on books and educational restrictions related to gender identity or sexual orientation. The decision does not block schools from being forced to notify parents if a child requests to use a new name or pronoun.

Two lawsuits were filed against the Iowa law, one by the ACLU of Iowa in November and another by publisher Penguin Random House in early December.

“We are pleased that our clients, Iowa families and students will be able to continue the school year without the harm caused by these parts of this unconstitutional law,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Nathan Maxwell said in a statement released by the ACLU of Iowa. “This decision sends a strong message to the state that efforts to ban books based on LGBTQ+ content or targeted speech that sends a message of inclusion to LGBTQ+ Iowa students cannot stand.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed the bill into law in May 2023, said in a statement that she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. “Instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation has no place in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms,” she added.

Iowa is just one of several Republican-led states that in the past few years have passed laws strengthening what advocates often describe as “parental rights.” Critics say the controversial move is aimed at curtailing the rights of LGBTQ and other marginalized students.

The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization, compared Iowa’s parental rights law to legislation passed in Florida that opponents called “Don’t Say Gay.” The Florida law banned certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom and sparked a social and political firestorm.

Similar laws limiting what books are allowed in libraries have recently gone into effect in other states, including Missouri and Utah.

“The vague language in the laws regarding how they should be enforced, as well as the inclusion of potential penalties for educators who violate them, combine to create a chilling effect,” according to a report published in April by PEN America, a non-profit organization that works to protect free expression and tracks book bans.

Laws like the one in Florida incentivize teachers, media professionals and school administrators to proactively remove books from shelves, the report said.

About a third of the banned titles are books about race or racism or feature characters of color. About 26% of titles have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

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