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Book Banning to Book Burning and Beyond

May of this year marks the 90th ‘anniversary’ of the book-burnings in Nazi Germany, pre-World War II. On May 10,1933, student groups across Germany burned books that the Nazi Party determined had an “un-German spirit.”

Large crowds attended these events, including one attended by 40,000 people in Berlin, who, in addition to the bonfires, were ‘treated’ to a speech by Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels endorsed the students’ book-burning activities, announcing that “Jewish intellectualism” was dead and decreeing that the students had a right to “clean up the debris of the past.”

The books in question were written by well-known intellectuals, scientists, and cultural figures, many of whom were Jewish. When word of these events reached this country, counter demonstrations were held in many large cities across America. Authors and journalists expressed outrage at the attacks on free expression of intellectual thought. Many of Germany’s artists and writers fled the country.

As we all know, these events were just the beginning of Nazi atrocities. One of the books burned by the Nazis contained the works Jewish poet Heinrich Heine. In 1822, Heine wrote:

“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”

How prophetic.

Fast forward to Florida, 2023 where the state just “celebrated” the one-year anniversary of the ‘Stop Woke Act’ which Governor Ron DeSantis fast-tracked and passed on March 10, 2022. It's a bill that impairs discussion about racism, discrimination, and other injustices in our society. This legislation not only censors or bans certain books and curriculum, it also censors important voices, sugar-coats the truth, and discriminates against certain groups by preventing an accurate accounting of their roots.

Florida State Representative Dotie Joseph put it this way: “Ignoring the reality of racism and sexism perpetuates and further empowers the racist . . . This bill is anti-freedom . . . White privilege personified and White fragility in legislative form.”

The bill does not just affect schools, it expands an employer’s potential civil liability by placing limitations on the topics an employer may discuss when conducting diversity training. Florida has the dubious distinction of being the first state in the nation to pass this type of anti-expression legislation.

One intended target of the governor’s wrath is the African American community, which seeks the right, in certain communities, to teach ‘critical race theory,’ an accurate history of how White America treated Black America during slavery.

The other principal target is the LGBTQ community. This bill coupled with the “Don’t say Gay” legislation in Florida, prevents instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. When the Walt Disney Company expressed its negative views of the legislation, the childish DeSantis threw a temper tantrum and stripped the company of its self-governing privileges.

DeSantis claims these bills protect students from “Woke indoctrination in schools.” Woke indoctrination? Sounds pretty ominous, doesn’t it? That is, until you look up the definition of “woke.” According to, woke means: “being conscious of racial discrimination in society and other forms of oppression and injustice.”

Which begs the question: Why would my child, grandchild, or employee need protection from that?

The unjust reasons for this type of legislation are, clearly, White fragility and homophobia. White heterosexuals believe that, somehow, if you expose people to different lifestyles, different races, creeds, or religions, you will make a White child (and his or her parents) feel ‘guilty.’

Frankly, as a relative of Holocaust survivors, all of this sounds very Nazi Germany. While I cannot say that Florida has officially banned certain books, these new laws require schools to ‘review’ books used to teach children, and many counties have pulled books from shelves to review them for content related to discrimination and sexual orientation.

The purpose of the review? To prevent a teacher or administrator from violating the new law. Sounds like a ban or prior restraint to me. How about you? The road to actual book-banning is a slippery slope and the more easily our basic rights are stripped from us without protest, the more frequently those rights will be infringed upon.

Unlike Nazi Germany, this country has a 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution. It reads, in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech ...”

Pure and simple, a government mandate about what our kids can or cannot read is unconstitutional. It mirrors the origins of Nazi Germany. Donald Trump wanted to be our nation’s first dictator. The ideology and actions of Ron DeSantis on these issues strike me as quite Trumpian.

Wake up, America, before the alt-right steamrolls over all of your constitutional rights.

Mark M. Bello is an attorney and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, ripped-from-the headlines, realistic fiction that speak truth to power and champion the rights of citizens in our justice system. These novels are dedicated to the social justice movement. They educate, spark discussion and inspire readers to action. One of these novels, Betrayal High, was written in response to school shootings. For more information, please visit Mark also hosts the Justice Counts podcast with Lean to the Left editor & publisher Bob Gatty, presenting bi-weekly interviews focused on social justice.

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