(CN) – Miami’s school board did not violate the Constitution by removing a book about Cuba from school libraries, the 11th Circuit ruled over a strong dissent, because the book “makes the totalitarian regime that runs the country and controls the lives of everyone in it appear better than telling the truth would.”
Juan Amador, a father with a school-aged daughter, asked the Miami-Dade County School Board to remove “A Visit to Cuba” and its Spanish-language counterpart, “Vamos a Cuba,” from the school library, explaining that, “As a former political prisoner from Cuba, I find the material to be untruthful. It portrays a life in Cuba that does not exist.”
After a long review process, the school board granted his request.
The book’s removal sparked protest from other parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association, who claimed the book’s removal violated the First and 14th Amendments.
The district court agreed and enjoined the board from enforcing its removal order.
The federal appeals court in Atlanta held that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the removal of “Vamos a Cuba,” but not the whole “A Visit to” series.
Turning to the constitutional claims, the 11th Circuit focused on the board’s motive for removing the book. The 2-1 majority said the board properly based its decision on the book’s historical inaccuracies, including statements that gloss over the harsh realities of Fidel Castro’s totalitarian regime.
The majority took issue with statements such as, “People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do,” saying the phrase “like you do” misrepresents life in Cuba and “makes the totalitarian regime that runs the country and controls the lives of everyone in it appear much better than telling the truth would. Statements in what purports to be a nonfiction book that whitewash the problems of a country and make the life of its people appear to be better than it is are not content neutral any more than overt propaganda would be,” Carnes wrote.
“Whatever else it prohibits, the First Amendment does not forbid a school board from removing a book because it contains factual inaccuracies, whether they be of commission or omission,” Carnes added. “There is no constitutional right to have books containing misstatements of objective facts shelved in a school library.”
But dissenting Judge Wilson called the supposed inaccuracies a “pretense for viewpoint suppression” – the cover-up for an anti-Castro agenda.
“I do not believe that the First Amendment permits a school board to ban a book for the purpose of suppressing the viewpoints expressed in the book, when the educational content of the book is otherwise innocuous,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson agreed with the lower court’s assessment that the book is “content-neutral and scrupulously apolitical.”