Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Federal judge says Texas cannot enforce book censorship law

Kennedy Weatherby
Charley Rejsek, the CEO of BookPeople, stands in front of a bookshelf inside the location on N. Lamar Blvd on Sept. 12, 2023. BookPeople joined group of Texas bookstores to sue the HB 900, which requires bookstores to provide ratings for books sold to schools outlining the amount of sexual content.

A federal judge said he will provide an injunction to stop a law censoring books containing “sexually explicit material” in school libraries last month, resulting from a lawsuit filed by book freedom advocates, including local bookstore BookPeople

BookPeople joined a coalition of Texas bookstores and book industry associations in a lawsuit claiming the language of House Bill 900 was too vague and violated their First Amendment rights. According to a press release, Federal District Judge Alan D. Albright said in a hearing he would issue an injunction in the coming weeks, preventing the state from enforcing the law.

HB 900 requires book vendors to provide a rating for all books sold to schools based on the amount of sexually explicit material in the book. Books with certain ratings would then be removed from school library shelves and require parents’ permission to be checked out. 

BookPeople CEO Charley Rejsek said HB 900 forces bookstores who cannot support paying staff to carry out reading and rating books as unpaid work. She said BookPeople would need to rate one thousand books in four months, resulting in thousands of billable hours going unfunded. 

“This is why I’m in the lawsuit (because) if this law stays in place, I don’t see a way forward to serve our schools,” Rejsek said. “If we try to pay people to read books, we would go out of business.” 

Resejek said if they did not comply, the state could use its power under the law to review and change ratings provided by BookPeople, violating their First Amendment rights.

“They would be compelling us to rate books against how we would actually rate them if we were to have read them, which we don’t do as a business,” Rejsek said. “This is where the conflict comes in, they’re asking us to rate (books), we say we can’t and then they say, ‘I’ll give you the rating’ and that’s how they’re able to move forward with censorship.” 

While the law would reduce student access to classic books, the vague language of the bill also targets books centering marginalized communities, like LGBTQ+ individuals, said Rocío Fierro-Pérez, senior political coordinator at the Texas Freedom Network

“A lot of what this bill says is that it is trying to protect kids from sexually explicit material, but there is nothing PG-13 about the lives of LGBTQ Texans,” Fierro-Pérez said. “This bill is going to isolate and cause fear among the LGBTQ children as they cope with the struggle to accept themselves and who they are.” 

David DeMatthews, an associate professor in the College of Education, said HB 900 will refrain teachers from teaching content that connects to their student’s lived experiences, stunting opportunities for learning development. 

“I think a lot of the legislation that was proposed and enacted in the last session around curriculum and books create just a sense of fear,” DeMatthews said. “It doesn’t matter to some extent whether or not the injunction is upheld or if this law is ultimately repealed … the damage is done. Teachers are increasingly afraid to take instructional risks and be innovative in the classroom.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated BookPeople “won” an injunction against HB 900, however, at the time of publication the injunction was not yet provided. Changes have been made to the article to reflect the current status of the injunction. 

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