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PRH Files Lawsuit Against Iowa Book Bans

By Julia Fitzpatrick


On Thursday 30 November, Penguin Random House filed a lawsuit challenging a new law which restricts access to books in Iowa schools. Senate File 496 prohibits school classrooms and libraries from having books containing sexual content for students up to 12th grade, with an exception for religious texts. The controversial law also bans books which deal with topics of gender identity and sexual orientation for students in 6th grade and younger, as well as prohibiting teachers from bringing up LGBTQIA+ issues.


Penguin’s lawsuit, which specifically challenges the aspects of SF 496 which concern books, was filed in partnership with bestselling authors, teachers and the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA). The four authors involved in the lawsuit are Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo and Jodi Picoult, all of whom have had books banned or removed from schools in Iowa. Tweeting her support for the lawsuit, Anderson argued that politicians and parents “don’t have the right to dictate which books other people’s children can or can’t read.” Malinda Lo, whose novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the 2021 National Book Award, said in a statement that she has “a responsibility to [her] queer and Asian American readers” to “stand up for them and their rights to read about people like them.”


Rather than claiming monetary damages, the lawsuit seeks a court injunction declaring the law unconstitutional and halting its enforcement on the basis of the First Amendment right to free speech and the fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Governor Reynolds has defended SF 496 by saying that “protecting children from pornography and sexually explicit content shouldn’t be controversial.”  The ISEA, however, has pointed out that in the absence of clear guidelines on which texts violate SF 496, even critically acclaimed books such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and James Joyce’s Ulysses are under threat. Moreover, education professionals found to have violated the provisions of the law could face disciplinary action including dismissal.


The Iowa restrictions are the latest in a series of book bans which have caused fierce debate across America. In the 2022–23 academic year alone, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books being banned. Penguin CEO Nihar Malaviya has been adamant in condemning the bans, confirming that Penguin will stand by “the free flow of ideas and perspectives that is a hallmark of American Democracy.”


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