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Freedom to Read Foundation files brief in lawsuit challenging Arizona’s Ethnic Studies ban

Tuesday, November 26, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jonathan Kelley
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November 26, 2013


Barbara M. Jones
Executive Director
(312) 280-4222

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) yesterday joined with several other library, education, and free speech organizations in filing an amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Arce v. Huppenthal, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona Revised Statute § 15-112(A). The brief argues that the statute, which led to the disbanding of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, violates Arizona students’ First Amendment rights to receive information and is unconstitutionally overbroad.

Following the law’s 2010 passage, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) was notified that its MAS program violated the statute. Facing the prospect of losing a significant amount of state funding, TUSD had no real choice other than to dismantle the program.  As a result, the MAS program ceased to exist and books were removed from classrooms and banned from use in instruction.

A federal lawsuit, including students from the MAS program, was filed challenging the statute on both First Amendment and Equal Protection grounds. The federal district court rejected the State’s claim that curriculum decisions constitute "government speech” over which they have absolute discretion and held that the statute’s ban on courses that are "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the court upheld the rest of the statute, finding it did not violate the First Amendment, nor was it overly broad. The student plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit and invited FTRF to submit an amicus brief.

"In submitting this brief, the Freedom to Read Foundation is standing up for the right of all Arizona students to a curriculum based on educational merit, not political motivation,” said Executive Director Barbara M. Jones. "Students in the MAS program improved their educational performance. And there is no evidence that those students learned 'racial resentment' or discovered an interest in 'overthrowing the U.S. government,' as the proponents of Arizona HB 2281 contended. Providing young people with access to a wide range of ideas, including those about different cultures, helps them to think critically, become better citizens, and succeed in family and workplace life. Censoring ideas promotes ignorance and fear.”

Joining FTRF in the suit are the American Library Association, American Booksellers Association for Free Expression, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Association for Ethnic Studies, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking.

To view the amicus brief, visit

Founded in 1969, the Freedom to Read Foundation is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association. FTRF protects and defends the First Amendment to the Constitution and supports the right of libraries to collect—and individuals to access—information.