Florida being Florida — Again

January 11th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

Dictionaries, Ron? Really? Well, yes, really.

Admit it, now. When you were a kid, blooming into puberty, did you and your friends ever sit down with a Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary to look up words adults told you you weren’t supposed to say? Well, I don’t know about you, but my friends and I did, after which we had quite the laugh. “That’s a word in the dictionary?”

Fast forward to the present, specifically, the present in Escambria County, Florida, population 324,878. It’s the 22nd most populous of Florida’s 67 counties.

Like all Florida’s counties, Escambria has an elected school Board of Education, which has the final say on what happens in the county’s 69 schools with their 37,804 students.

The Escambria School Board is now in the middle of figuring out how to deal with Florida’s new law, HB 1069, the “Let kids be kids” bill, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on 17 May 2023.

HB 1069 follows on the heels of SB148/ HB7, the “anti-woke” legislation much beloved by Governor DeSantis. This is the legislation called “positively dystopian” by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, as he blocked key provisions of it in his 139-page decision in November 2022.

HB 1069 covers a lot of ground. For example, a few points emphasized by the Governor in a press release, dated the day of the signing, are that “HB 1069 protects students from having to declare their pronouns in school. Additionally, this bill expands parental rights in education by prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Pre-K through 8th grade.”

The bill also prohibits anyone from knowingly admitting a minor to “an adult performance” (Read—Drag Queen shows), prohibits gender reassignment surgery or puberty blockers for minors, and requires all public restrooms “to designate separate facilities based on biological sex or to provide one-person unisex facilities.”

Many people have taken issue with all this anti-woke stuff, but far more important to me is that HB 1069 gives residents the right to demand the removal of any library book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct,” as defined under Florida law, whether or not the book is pornographic.

Two things have happened consequent to the passage of HB 1069. First, a number of Floridians have stepped up to demand removal of a number of books because of perceived sexual content. These book-banning demands have been led by Moms For Liberty, a right-wing organization that gathered steam in early 2022, but has been declining lately, especially since the Tampa Bay Times scooped that one of the organization’s co-founders, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, and her husband, Christian Ziegler, Florida’s GOP chairman, admitted to a threesome sexual tryst. It didn’t help their case when the third member of the swinging threesome filed a complaint alleging Christian Ziegler had raped her.

The second thing that followed the passage of HB 1069 was County school boards becoming fearful about violating any of it, especially the “sexual content” part. They began worrying about all the raunchy stuff that might be between the covers of the thousands of books in their school libraries. So, each County hatched its own plan for what to do about it. In Escambria County, the School Board ordered the removal of more than 2,800 books from the shelves so they could be “reviewed” by “qualified media specialists.”

As Judd Legum, at Popular Information, reported yesterday morning, these books included — get ready for it — dictionaries (you were wondering when I was going to get back to dictionaries, weren’t you?). Meriam-Webster now sits in storage waiting to be reviewed, along with eight different encyclopedias, two thesauruses, and five editions of The Guinness Book of World Records. Biographies of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj, and Thurgood Marshall are also locked away.

So far, only 67 of the more than 2,800 have been reviewed. Many school libraries are closed, because there are no books for students to read or take out.

As Legum write yesterday:

Classic texts like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile are no longer available to Escambia County students. Twenty-three novels by Stephen King have been removed. The dragnet has also swept up books popular with the political right including Atlas Shrugged and two books by conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly.

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the Bible was one of the books removed from Escambria County school libraries over concerns about accounts of sexism, sex, violence, genocide, slavery, rape and bestiality, all of which were grounds for removal. However, after ferocious blowback from the Christians of Escambria County, the school board ordered the book returned to the shelves.

Now, students have at least one place to get their shot of sex. They might check out the Song of Solomon 7. Perhaps these opening lines could get them started:

How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.

Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.

But wait. There’s more!

The Florida 2023 statutes contain another little item of interest, especially for the more prurient minded. Consider this.

Chapter 847

847.011 Prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene, lewd, etc., materials;

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(c), a person who knowingly has in his or her possession, custody, or control any obscene book, magazine, periodical, pamphlet, newspaper, comic book, story paper, written or printed story or article, writing, paper, card, picture, drawing, photograph, motion picture film, film, any sticker, decal, emblem or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs, or depictions, any figure, image, phonograph record, or wire or tape or other recording, or any written, printed, or recorded matter of any such character which may or may not require mechanical or other means to be transmuted into auditory, visual, or sensory representations of such character, or any article or instrument for obscene use, or purporting to be for obscene use or purpose, without intent to sell, lend, give away, distribute, transmit, show, transmute, or advertise the same, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

According to s.775.082, a “misdemeanor of the second degree” will get you 60 days in jail. 

What this means, of course, is that if you happen to subscribe to, oh, let’s see… Playboy Magazine, or, God forbid, Hustler, and peruse either in the alleged sanctity of your home, and if the cleaning lady happens to see either and turns you in, you can end up in the hoosgow — in Florida. Perhaps you should consider the Song of Solomon, instead.

I think Donald Trump was on to something when he labeled Florida’s Governor, “Ron DeSanctimonious.”