More than 380 authors, publishing houses, and advocacy groups have signed an open letter protesting new South Carolina education standards that could lead to the removal of classic and critically acclaimed contemporary novels from the state's public schools simply for including a sexual reference.

The state's new regulations, slated to take effect on June 25, contain a strict prohibition on “sexual conduct,” which critics insist is "vague" and "overbroad" and will lead to books being banned without consideration of "context, purpose, or educational value." The letter argues that the new regulations will threaten free expression and the freedom to read and run afoul of the First Amendment, adding that librarians and educators, not politicians, are best qualified to curate collections for schools and school libraries.

"Our concerns raised in this letter are two-fold. First, if the regulations are enacted, this statewide policy mandates that any instructional materials that contain descriptions of 'sexual conduct' will not be considered 'age and developmentally appropriate for any age' through grade 12," the letter states. "Second, these regulations will efficiently eradicate an already narrow space for education in public schools regarding sexual violence, abuse, and consent. To make books with 'sexual conduct' unavailable for all students—when districts serve students who range in age from 5 to 18—is to cut off a lifeline and put students at further risk."

Books aren’t harmful, censorship is.

Among the letter's signatories are Big Five publishers Hachette, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House; organizations including the ACLU of South Carolina, Authors Against Book Bans, EveryLibrary, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Women’s Law Center, PEN America, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and We Need Diverse Books; and hundreds of individual authors, many of which are South Carolina residents or have ties to the state.

"As signatories of this letter, we represent a diverse group of experts and advocates working on supporting free expression, civil rights, and the rights of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence," the letter concludes. "Young people deserve access to literature, the same as they have had for years. Books aren’t harmful, censorship is."