Ahead of Florida’s primary election on Aug. 23, several VERIFY viewers asked us to look into a viral meme that claims to show a list of banned books in the state.
The meme, which went viral on social media, claims Florida banned popular classic books including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
“Florida’s Anti-Woke banned book list. A couple of them make sense considering republicans should be terrified their constituents might read ‘1984,’” the meme says.
Even Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, posted the meme to Twitter. Hamill’s tweet alone had more than 147,000 likes.
VERIFY viewers Lisa and Larry both texted us to ask if the list was real and if the ban was ordered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Is the list of banned books in Florida real, as a viral meme claims?
- Bryan Griffin, press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis
- Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards
- Florida House Bill 1467
- Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson
- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
- American Library Association
- Red, Wine & Blue education advocacy group
No, the meme list of banned books in Florida isn’t real. The state of Florida doesn't have a list of banned books, but local school districts do have the authority to ban books.
WHAT WE FOUND
VERIFY has found posts with this specific list of books dating back to at least February 2022, but the older versions of the meme didn’t include the text about it being centralized to Florida.
DeSantis didn’t issue a statewide ban on books in Florida, Bryan Griffin, press secretary for the governor, told VERIFY.
“As far as I see it, this is just a completely fictitious list made by people potentially living in an alternate reality,” Griffin said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the nation, deleted a tweet showing the viral meme with the list and said she should have done her research.
“I should have double checked before I retweeted this list. My bad. Looks like some of the books weren’t banned. Book bans are very real & dangerous,” she tweeted.
Many of the books on the meme are on the American Library Association’s list of “Banned & Challenged Classics,” which documents books that have historically been banned or attempted to be removed from libraries, schools and universities in the United States.
In fact, some of the listed books from the viral meme are specifically recommended in Florida’s Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards, Griffin told VERIFY.
The B.E.S.T. Standards were created after DeSantis signed a bill eliminating Common Core curriculum. According to the B.E.S.T. Standards, even though the Common Core curriculum was cut, the B.E.S.T standards create “literacy standards for our Florida students that will shape their education and secure their position as leading the charge to make Florida the most literate state in the nation.”
Some of the books on the alleged banned book list are listed in the B.E.S.T. Standards. Some examples:
- “To Kill a Mockingbird”
- “The Call of the Wild”
- “Of Mice and Men”
- “Lord of the Flies”
“There is no banned book list at the state level. The state sets guidelines regarding content, and the local school districts are responsible for enforcing them,” Griffin said.
In March, DeSantis signed HB 1467 into law that required schools to be more transparent about their curriculum and gave parents a chance to have input on selecting library books and other instructional materials.
“Florida parents are seeking greater involvement in many aspects of our education system, and this legislation speaks to that effort. The books our kids are reading in schools need to have proper vetting. Parents have a right, and a responsibility, to be involved in that process,” Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson said at the time of signing.
“Not all books are appropriate for every grade level. This legislation makes sure that we have a transparent and consistent process for public participation in the review of books and other materials used in school lessons and in the school library,” Simpson said.
However, there are some school districts in Florida that have decided to ban books from being used or studied in their classrooms.
For example, the Flagler County, Fla., school superintendent banned “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” written by LGBTQ+ activist George M. Johnson after a parent complained it was obscene. There have been at least 10 books that have been banned in Florida’s Duval County from 1978 to present.
Are you curious about book bans in your state? Red, Wine & Blue, an education advocacy group has a map of school districts that have banned books from being used in their classrooms.