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Supreme Court: Miami school can ban book on Cuba

The Supreme Court Monday declined to hear a challenge to a Miami school board decision that removed a book about Cuba from public schools. The book was seen as presenting too cheery a view of life in Cuba.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 2009

School board members in Miami have won their battle to remove a children's book from the shelves of Miami-Dade school libraries because they said the book presented an inaccurate picture of life in Cuba.

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On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to take up the case of "Vamos a Cuba" – the little book that sparked a big controversy over alleged censorship in Miami.

The action lets stand a 2-1 ruling by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals that the school board's decision to remove the book was not censorship in violation of the First Amendment. Instead, the Atlanta-based appeals court said the school board was seeking to remove the book because it contained substantial factual inaccuracies.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida had appealed to the high court to overturn the 11th Circuit decision.

"It is a sad day for free speech in our great nation," said JoNel Newman, a lawyer with the ACLU of Florida. "This is a dangerous precedent, and a huge leap backwards in the battle against censorship. Aftershocks may be felt in public school libraries across the country."

A federal judge had earlier found that the school board had engaged in unconstitutional censorship. "School board members intended by their removal of the books to deny school children access to ideas or points-of-view with which the school officials disagreed," US District Judge Alan Gold said.

The judge issued an injunction blocking removal of the book. The appeals court ordered the injunction to be lifted, and it is this order that was upheld by the Supreme Court's action.

Parents complained

The underlying controversy arose in 2006, when the parent of a student at a Miami elementary school complained about the book. "As a former political prisoner in Cuba, I find the material to be untruthful" in a way that "aims to create an illusion and distort reality," wrote the student's father, Juan Amador.

"Vamos a Cuba" and its English-language version "A Visit to Cuba" are part of a series of 24 books seeking to introduce young readers, aged four to eight, to other countries.

Among the offending passages was this one: "People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do."