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Judge blocks most of an Iowa law banning certain school library books and discussion of LGBTQ+ issues

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked key parts of a Iowa law that prohibits certain books in school libraries and prohibits teachers from raising LGBTQ+ issues.

Judge Stephen Locher’s preliminary injunction ends enforcement of the law, which was to take effect Jan. 1 but had already resulted in the removal of hundreds of books from Iowa schools.

The law, which the Republican-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds approved in early 2023, bans books depicting sexual acts in school libraries and classrooms and prohibits teachers from raising issues of gender identity and sexual orientation with students up to sixth grade. Locher blocked the application of these two provisions.

The judge said the book ban is “incredibly broad” and has resulted in the removal of volumes of history, classics, award-winning novels and “even books designed to help students avoid being victims of sexual assault”. He said it is unlikely that any part of the law would meet the constitution’s requirements for free speech.

In banning the provision prohibiting any discussion of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in elementary school, Locher said the way it was worded was “extremely broad.”

Iowa educators welcomed the decision.

“When education professionals return to work next week, they will be able to do what they do best: take great care of all of their students without fear of retaliation,” said Iowa State President Mike Beranek Education Association, in a press release.

Reynolds’ office did not immediately comment on the decision.

The judge left the obligation for school administrators to inform parents if their child asks to change their pronouns or names, asserting that the plaintiffs lacked standing.

The Iowa measure is part of a wave of similar legislation across the country. Typically supported by Republican lawmakers, the laws aim to prohibit discussion gender and sexual orientation issues, prohibit treatments such as puberty blockers for transgender children, and restricting use of toilet in schools. Many have encouraged legal challenges.

Opponents of the Iowa law have filed two lawsuits. One is in the name of the organization Iowa Safe Schools and seven students, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal. The other is that of the Iowa State Education Association, publisher Penguin Random House and four authors.

The first lawsuit argues that the measure is unconstitutional because it violates the free speech and equal protection rights of students and teachers. The second suit, which focused more narrowly on book bans, argues that the law violates the equal protection clause of the First and 14th Amendments.

Lawyers in both trials said the law is broad and confusing.

At a Dec. 22 hearing, Daniel Johnston of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office argued that school officials were applying the book ban too broadly. When deciding whether to remove books, educators should not focus on the idea of ​​a sexual act, but rather look for texts or images that meet the definition of a sexual act given by the Iowa, Johnston said.

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