The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Libraries Locking Down

Book Stores Stand Against House Bill 900
Asha Rountree

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books are a common sight in school libraries and classrooms. But what would happen if the bookshelves were empty? 

House Bill 900 (HB900), passed by the Texas Legislature in June 2023, aims to restrict the number of books in schools. Books deemed “sexually explicit”, meaning they contain “patently offensive” material that is not directly related to required curriculum, would be banned. Elizabeth Switek, LASA’s librarian, has been keeping an eye on the bill and how it would affect schools and bookstores.

“All books that are for sale to a school district, elementary, middle, or high school in the state of Texas have to be classified as sexually explicit, sexually relevant, or not applicable,” Switek said. “The group that has to identify every book that’s for sale in the state of Texas is the booksellers – not the authors, not the publishers.”

If a bookstore does not comply with the law, it is barred from selling books to any school in Texas. However, according to Charley Rejsek, the C.E.O. of BookPeople, following the law is impossible for many bookstores.

“BookPeople is a 53-year-old business,” Rejsek said. “I don’t have 53 years worth of records of books that I’ve sold to schools. So number one, I don’t even know what books to read and rate, but what I do know is that I sell books to schools all the time and so I do know it’s going to be thousands and thousands of books that I do not have money to pay people to read and rate.”

Rejsek joined a lawsuit filed by the American Bookselling Association and the Media Coalition over the law in July 2023. The official complaint argues that the law “establishes an unconstitutional regime of compelled speech, retaliation, and licensing that violates clear First Amendment precedent” because the Texas Education Association could override booksellers’ ratings. Reid Pillifant is a lawyer who helped to argue the case.

“Compelled speech can take a number of forms,” Pillifant said. “But essentially, it is when a government forces citizens to speak a message with which they may disagree.”

HB900 was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by Judge Alan D. Albright and had an injunction placed on it, preventing it from going into effect. So far, the case has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, who upheld the original ruling.

“Texas has already stated that they’re going to appeal it to the Supreme Court,” Switek said. “Whether they do that or not, we have no idea. So at this point, the portion of the law that makes booksellers identify every single book that is sexually relevant or sexually explicit, that part of the law is just set aside and not going to happen.”

If the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices’ ruling will be final. Recent Supreme Court cases have made predicting how the court might rule on the case difficult.

“It’s very difficult to predict how the justices might react to this case,” Pillifant said. “While the Court has tilted to the right in recent years, they have also recently struck down laws that compelled speech.”

If the injunction against HB900 stands, similar laws could still be passed. There are several ways to advocate against such laws, including contacting representatives in the legislature.

“Organizations like Freedom to Read are a great opportunity to help fight book bans across the state,” Pillifant said. “To help prevent a state law like HB900, students should keep an eye on the news during next year’s legislative session and come to the Capitol to testify against any proposed book bans.”

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