Federal court ruling supports book ban in Miami school

An editorial in the New York Times criticizes a federal appeals court for sanctioning censorship in a Miami elementary school. Critics claimed the district superintendent banned a book on Cuba for its content favorable to the Castro regime. -DB

The New York Times
February 11, 2009

Schools are supposed to introduce children to a variety of ideas and viewpoints, but the Miami-Dade School Board decided a few years ago to put one viewpoint off limits. It banned the children’s book “A Visit to Cuba” from its school libraries because it said the book offers too positive a portrait of life under the Castro regime. That was bad enough, but then last week, a federal appeals court upheld the ban. The Supreme Court should reverse this disturbing ruling.

“A Visit to Cuba” and its Spanish edition, “Vamos a Cuba,” are part of a series of books for children ages 4 to 8 that introduces them to the geography, customs and daily life of different countries. The Miami-Dade County Public School District had 49 copies in its elementary and middle schools.

The father of an elementary-school student, complaining that the portrait of Cuba in the book was inaccurate, petitioned to have “A Visit to Cuba” pulled. The school superintendent denied the petition, but the school board overruled him. The board said it was acting because of inaccuracies and omissions in the book, but Miami’s strong anti-Castro political sentiment was undeniably a factor.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued and argued that pulling the book violated the First Amendment. The Federal District Court sided with the A.C.L.U. and ordered the school district to keep “A Visit to Cuba” available. But on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta reversed and upheld the school board’s decision.

The appellate court’s ruling is a disturbing case of a federal appeals court upholding censorship. It is clear, as the lower court concluded, that the school board pulled “A Visit to Cuba” because of its viewpoint, not for any sound educational reason. The district court rightly rejected the board’s claim that it was concerned about inaccuracies and omissions in the book. Many books have minor inaccuracies. And the omissions in “A Visit to Cuba” were appropriate in a book written for such a young audience.

The Supreme Court should not let this ruling stand. School boards have some discretion about what books to place in school libraries. The First Amendment does not, however, allow them to suppress political viewpoints.

The Miami-Dade School Board’s decision is not only unconstitutional, it is counterproductive. If the board wants to oppose the totalitarianism of the Castro regime, banning books is an odd way to go about it.