Guess What’s “Inappropriate”

The rule of law.

Many pundits–including yours truly–throw that term around, assuming readers understand its elements. I think most Americans do recognize one of those elements–the principle that no one is above the law, that the rules apply to everyone, very much including Presidents and lawmakers.

There are other principles that are less-well understood, however, and one of them is specificity. If laws are to be obeyed, they must be explicit. They must describe the behaviors being prohibited (or required) clearly, in terms that allow citizens to fully understand them. When courts strike down laws for being unconstitutional, it is often because those measures have been found to be unconstitutionally vague.

That required specificity is among the many, many things that far too many legislators ignore. Texas comes immediately to mind, but the following example is from Ron DeSantis’ Florida–a state that is beginning to resemble Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

As Daily Kos — among others–recently reported:

There are more than 500 entries for Florida in PEN America’s ever-expanding list of books banned in American schools. These include what should be obviously innocuous titles like the “Zen Shorts” series by Jon Muth, which are some of the best children’s books available to parents and teachers. This effort to remove books about Black and LGBTQ+ people and characters from schools and libraries is a part of a larger effort to sanitize our country’s history. Like almost all efforts that pass for conservative “policies” these days, citizens of all ages are widely opposed to the bans….

DeSantis and his team of book-banners also highlighted the need to criminally punish teachers or librarians who give out books people like DeSantis deem pornographic. Mind you, our federal government (and Florida itself) already has laws outlining what is and is not considered pornographic. And there are also laws that prohibit books, images, and videos that sexualize minors…

Judd Legum over at Popular Information has gotten his hands on some of the Florida books that have been banned and the stated reasons they were banned. You would be hard-pressed to figure out how the previous statements above have any bearing on the decisions being made about libraries in the Sunshine State.

The article links to PEN’s report on the multitude of books that have been removed from Florida classrooms and it’s as jaw-dropping as you might imagine. The extensive nature of the list is an artifact of an unconstitutionally vague statute–a truly excellent example of a law that violates the specificity required by the rule of law. That’s because, In Florida, while there may be a few books deemed “pornographic,” most of the books that have been banned are attacked under the “how vague can you get” term “inappropriate.”

Rather obviously, my definition of “inappropriate” and yours may differ substantially.

The linked article suggests that the DeSantis Administration finds books depicting racism in negative terms to be “inappropriate.” For example, the Florida Department of Education announced that it rejected 35% of social studies textbooks submitted to them. One of those–a book for 6th to 8th graders– was evidently rejected for containing the following section:

“New Calls for Social Justice

During the 2000s, one effect of an increase in the use or mobile devices and social media was the spread of images of police violence, sometimes deadly, against Black Americans. The deaths of Black Americans outraged many Americans and led to a crowing awareness of systemic racism that permeated the broader society.

In 2013, a new social and political movement called Black Lives Matter formed to protest violence against Black Americans. The movement called for an end to systemic racism and white supremacy.”

Lest anti-Semites feel neglected by Florida lawmakers’ focus on protecting racism, the state has also rejected education about the Holocaust, finding it “woke.”

Florida’s state education department rejected two new Holocaust-focused textbooks for classroom use, while forcing at least one other textbook to alter a passage about the Hebrew Bible in order to meet state approval…

“Modern Genocides” was rejected in part for its discussion of “special topics” prohibited by the state. The list of such topics includes terms such as “social justice” and “critical race theory,”a phrase that traditionally concerns a method of legal analysis but that Republicans have used pejoratively to refer to discussion of systemic racism in the United States. The department did not clarify which prohibited “special topics” the book included.

Florida evidently considers accurate history and support for civic equality as (equally-vague) “woke” and thus “inappropriate.”

Maybe we should get rid of speed limits and just prohibit “driving too fast.” We can trust the police to decide who’s speeding–right?

Just like we can trust Florida’s current government to decide what’s “inappropriate.”


  1. “Maybe we should get rid of speed limits and just prohibit “driving too fast.” We can trust the police to decide who’s speeding–right?” Nope – these days anyone can drive as fast as they want and is unlikely to get caught. Recent studies show that if they do, even repeatedly, they get off lightly. We live in the age of “anything goes” and “I decide what is appropriate”.

  2. Seems to me that Trump and DeSantis are in a desperate contest to see who can be the craziest. I can’t see it ending well for either one of them and certainly not for the Republican Party. For that, I am grateful.

  3. The police will be too busy tracking down and arresting schoolteachers, librarians, and other “pedophiles” and “groomers” who might expose kids to forbidden books or Disney movies. Traffic enforcement will be left to individual armed citizens who will “stand their ground” whenever they feel that someone else’s driving made them feel threatened.

  4. This topic incites my sarcasm bug, but I’ll avoid it this morning. Judd has been writing great pieces of journalism lately.

    I don’t understand where these books’ identified harms are or who they have injured. None are pornographically explicit, so what provable damage have they inflicted?

    These politicians are so eager to please these half-witted voters that they’ll venture into various fruitcake conspiracies and ideas. They seem to lose more than they gain, which implies a negative strategy.

    If your bragging point is the number of books, you’ve banned, well, uh…

  5. “I think most Americans do recognize one of those elements–the principle that no one is above the law, that the rules apply to everyone, very much including Presidents and lawmakers.”

    I find this statement to currently be “inappropriate”; we have spent EIGHT YEARS watching Trump and his minions blatantly remain above the seditious and treasonous laws of the land. Nothing more blatant than Trump’s continuing to disparage E. Jean Carroll after recently being convicted in court and admonished by the judge to cease and desist his lying insults of the woman he sexually assaulted and destroyed her reputation. He continues daily to rant against her and continues his seditious claims about winning the 2020 presidential election and promising all convicted in his January 6th Insurrection will be pardoned if elected in 2024. His minions, such as Giuliani, Bannon and Stone, are still awaiting court appearances as the years drag on and the 2024 election moves closer and they remain above the laws of the land. Are Texas and Florida distractions from the higher issues which need to be addressed to protect America and all Americans?


    Street justice and mass shootings have taken over and those shooters not killed but arrested by authorities languish in our jails being supported by our tax dollars. They will possibly be convicted and sentenced while Trump and his past and current supporters “run out the clock” to the 2024 presidential election. I find this highly inappropriate. The Supreme Court has decided it does not require ethics to rule the nation and will decide among themselves what is inappropriate; they are on the market to the highest bidders. John Roberts’ wife’s wealth and Thomas’ worldly pleasures supplied by his personal billionaire are not counted by them as being inappropriate and will continue unabated and ignored as they concentrate their efforts and their laws on women’s health issues and the sex lives of all Americans. It doesn’t take guesswork to find these issues inappropriate and against democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution.

  6. JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED! I am referring to JUSTICE DENIED to America; not Trump and his minions who remain above our laws after so many years.

  7. I see these laws get passed, and then quietly as time goes on, and maybe as many lives are impacted, a court case comes along and strikes them down. The right wing propaganda machine never reports on the slow fade. All most “conservatives” remember is that somebody pass a law that “protects” something and they blindly vote for their favorite conservative candidate again despite the wasted time effort and resources.

    This worked for the abortion issue right up until the dog caught the car. It will continue to work for book bans for quite a while because there is no one definitive rule and each law will have to challenged on a case by case basis. Sigh…

  8. All of these idiot-level actions by DeSantis and the other right-wing lip strummers define the word FASCISM. Their extremist propaganda looks exactly what came out of the Joseph Goebbels playbook for blaming everything wrong on the Jews.

    But wait! The Republicans have many more bogeymen than just the Jews, don’t they? They’ve weaponized Christianity and whiteness to give impetus to their pathetic and evil drive toward total fascism and a tyrannical dictatorship.

  9. Sodom and Gomorrah. Tamar and Judah. Lot’s daughters. There is plenty of dark and gritty content in the first book of the Bible alone before we make our way into the next sixty-five. The Bible does not come to us G-rated because it describes true events of a sinful, fallen world. Hmmm. Is The Bible on De Santis’ list along with Disney!

  10. Norris, your question can be answered with another question. Whose Bible? There are different holy books, so we could ban the Catholic Bible and leave King James alone!

    Now that the legislature has been sent home, Governor DeMentis is busy signing all those bills that give him the world and the cover for his abuse of the rule of law. God help us!

  11. There are a lot of good points today, Norris, Joanne, Lester, Vernon, Todd, all make a lot of sense today looking at things from different angles.

    A lot of different opinions that focus on the same problem, the law or rule of law!

    One thing I’ve noticed over all of the years of reading, focusing on history, focusing on scripture, and focusing on how society tends to decay over a period of time in every single society. It just keeps repeating!

    If we go back to original laws that we’ve all read in scripture when we were younger, there’s a lot of conduct, activity, and beliefs that were considered taboo, and others that individuals were supposed to follow leading to a better living environment, a safer and more equitable lifestyle.

    But alas, along with advancement in society, comes the desire to circumvent laws. It also comes with a disdain for religious practices and dogma. So when we talk about original law, it’s what was written in scripture. And that becomes distasteful.

    So original law is so disparaged or considered with disdain, how is anybody expect man’s law to be followed? If we get used to disregarding the law, why would any law be above another? If you disregard one law, you’re more apt to disregard all of them.

    Scriptural law in Romans The 13th chapter, and even the Old testament, tells it’s adherents to obey the superior authorities. Also, scripture says if those superior authorities abuse their positions, there will be recompense involved for such abuse somewhere down the line.

    If individuals have no faith, and they have no hope, if society on the whole has that particular mindset, how is their faith and hope in anything? Why would there be faith and hope in government or laws or financial institutions or political activity? When an entire huge portion of history is so easily dismissed in a way that is truly despicable, how can we expect any better outcome for any decisions mankind makes?

    The religious leaders of this world in every religion tend to abuse oversight of their followers to enrich themselves. And this causes extreme consternation among those who have decided not to be believers.

    Hey, anything goes! There is no restraint, if one doesn’t like the law, any law, disobey it, if one’s desire conflicts with any law go with that desire, it’s the way of humanity.

  12. “Specificity” is the reason we have lawyers.

    I have education and experience and a great deal of both satiated and insatiable curiosity about other kinds of specificity and that is in the field of physics. It’s very difficult for me to probe around what is “common knowledge” that most others understand about science specifics and what is more my “expert” knowledge. That leads to problems related to the toxicity around “assumptions”, guesses by me of what others know that’s factual in science and by them of whether I’m using what I know and don’t about science to further an agenda of my own.

    If experts in today’s specialty knowledge explosion do not have credibility with those with common knowledge it’s difficult to get the right and right amount of expertise applied appropriately.

    That’s why right wing programmers have made an issue of their assumption that trusting the knowledge elite risks individual freedom.

    Of course it’s toxic in today’s complex world, that’s the point – destruction of working society so the wealthy have more pieces to put in their bulging vaults.

  13. Gerald Stinson – if you are reading today’s blog and comments, I hope you can answer this question – Do your Florida friends support what DeSantis has been doing?

    If there are other past or current FL residents on this blog, could you tell us if the general public in FL agrees with DeSantis’ authoritarianism?

  14. I can think of one instance when the law was regularly broken in order to follow a moral belief, and that was when the abolitionists helped runaway slaves (property)escape to freedom. Depends on how one defines slaves – are they property of their “massas” or human beings inherently meant to be free? That question was a major cause of our Civil War.

  15. Regarding speed limits, that’s actually what they do. They set speed limits artificially low which gives the police a blank check to pull over whichever drivers they want.

  16. How about Florida’s current government is “inappropriate!?”
    How about DeSantis winning his first election as governor was “inappropriate,”
    Rick Scott having had his finger on the scales at the time.

  17. Nancy – Some go for the garbage he peddles and some do not; but the relative percentages of pros and cons are beyond my ken.

  18. seems trump and desatis is running a race to? if they expect the votes,they have gone beyond the majority who now roll their eyes on the hourly rhetoric.seems this field is pressing to see how far they can go,at our expense. over all the think tanks with new tech, will willow out the go betweens and find a new crevise to drop into. if manchin decides a independant run,the spoiler? im finding the desantis swing with right wing trumpers here in NoDak,isnt even registering. most of whats left of the trumpers are not talking so tough now. the relization of a nation as hostage with violence maybe resonating bigger than the right wingers expected,and what they didnt expect. the news sure does waist alot of ink on these mayham idiots. maybe the press should be more to the point of what these back stabbers in DC are passing and whos name is on it. to much worthless flack? maybe the news as we know it,and rely on,are selling the present situation as dire. do something about it.or we all go down with the titanic… desantis is a freak, florida has become a no mans land for democracy,maybe their statehouse is due for a mass presense of those left standing to make a can only press so many buttons before it breaks.

  19. Jacobin:
    How Chicagos working class elected Mayor Brandon Johnson,
    todays story..

  20. Could you please devote a column to the Indiana-specific definition of “material harmful to minors”?
    What’s a school librarian to do if a parent files a challenge to a book?
    If a 17-year old high school senior is old enough to legally consent to a sex act, are they not old enough to voluntarily read a book describing the act?
    Are they not old enough to be exposed to information about contraception and other health-related information about sex?

  21. Mary–There is no “Indiana specific” definition; in fact, there is no specific definition at all. That lack of specificity makes these laws, in my opinion, unconstitutionally vague.

    What you might find harmful to minors, I might find perfectly appropriate. Not to mention that “minors” differ dramatically, so that what might really be unsettling for one child wouldn’t faze another.

  22. IC 35-49-2-2 Matter or performance harmful to minors
    Sec. 2. A matter or performance is harmful to minors for purposes of this article if:

    (1) it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;

    (2) considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;

    (3) it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for or performance before minors; and

    (4) considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

    As added by P.L.311-1983, SEC.33.

  23. Mary–what is “patently offensive” is entirely subjective–ditto “sexual excitement” and “appeal to prurient interests.” (I have three sons, and for a time during adolescence, pretty much ANYTHING appealed to their prurient interests…) These are not specific terms.

Comments are closed.