Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida
I’m a lawyer, not a literary critic. I can’t predict whether E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy has literary merit or is just a blip on the radar screen of popular culture. Have I read the books? Sure. Research is central to a lawyer’s work. Do I care who’ll play Anastasia Steele or Christian Grey in the film version of the trilogy? Nope.
But I care about the First Amendment, and I know censorship when I see it. When the Brevard public library removed from circulation nineteen copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, based on one individual’s misguided sense of decorum, a resounding chorus of “Really?” was heard across the country: in 2012, would a public library, an arm of the government, really strip a book from its collection on the ground that it was “semi-pornographic”? Mind you, this is a public library that carries the Zane chronicles, including Gettin’ Buck Wild: Sex Chronicles II (Zane Does Incredible, Erotic Things). Really.
In Brevard County, “Really?” became “Hell, no,” as men and women, card-carrying members of the Brevard County Library System demanded that the books be returned to the shelves. On May 24, the ACLU of Florida and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the Brevard County Commissioners, reminding them that the County’s removal of “Fifty Shades of Grey” from circulation violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 4 of the Florida Constitution and exposed the County Commission to potential liability.
Yesterday, on May 28, the County’s Communications Director announced that “The Brevard County Library System will return ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to its library shelves.” The Library Services Director, who had made the initial decision to scrap the books, remarked “We have always stood against censorship.” Really.
But all’s well that ends well: score one for the First Amendment. “Laters, baby.”