SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Good Book is being treated like a bad book in one Utah school district after a parent frustrated by efforts to ban materials from schools convinced school officials that some Bible verses were too vulgar or violent for younger children.
And the Book of Mormon could be next.
The 72,000-student Davis School District north of Salt Lake City removed the Bible from its elementary and middle schools while keeping it in high schools after a committee reviewed the scripture in response to a parental complaint.
The district has removed other titles, including Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” following a 2022 state law requiring districts to include parents in decisions over what constitutes “sensitive material.”
Fifty additional titles are currently under review in the Davis School District, and among the titles being debated are “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
Representatives for the church declined to comment on the challenge. Members of the faith also read the Bible.
Williams said the district doesn’t differentiate between requests to review books and doesn’t consider whether complaints may be submitted as satire. The reviews are handled by a committee made up of teachers, parents and administrators in the largely conservative community.
The committee published its decision about the Bible in an online database of review requests and did not elaborate on its reasoning or which passages it found overly violent or vulgar.
The decision comes as conservative parent activists, including state-based chapters of the group Parents United, descend on school boards and statehouses throughout the United States, sowing alarm about how sex and violence are talked about in schools.
A copy of the complaint obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request shows that the parent noted the Bible contains instances of incest, prostitution and rape. The complaint derided a “bad faith process” and said the district was “ceding our children’s education, First Amendment Rights, and library access” to Parents United.
“Utah Parents United left off one of the most sex-ridden books around: The Bible,” the parent’s complaint, dated Dec. 11, said. It later went on to add, “You’ll no doubt find that the Bible (under state law) has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition.”
The review committee determined the Bible didn’t qualify under Utah’s definition of what’s pornographic or indecent, which is why it remains in high schools, Williams said. The committee can make its own decisions under the new 2022 state law and has applied different standards based on students’ ages in response to multiple challenges, he said.
An unnamed party filed an appeal on Wednesday.
The Bible has long found itself on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books and was temporarily pulled off shelves last year in school districts in Texas and Missouri.
Concerns about new policies potentially ensnaring the Bible have routinely arisen in statehouses during debates over efforts to expand book banning procedures. That includes Arkansas — one of the states that enacted a law this year that would subject librarians to criminal penalties for providing “harmful” materials to minors and creates a new process for the public to request materials be relocated in libraries.
“I don’t want people to be able to say, ‘I don’t want the Bible in the library,” Arkansas Democratic state Sen. Linda Chesterfield said during a hearing.
Parents who have pushed for more say in their children’s education and the curriculum and materials available in schools have argued that they should control how their children are taught about matters like gender, sexuality and race.
HB 465 “requires local education agencies that provide school libraries to provide an online platform that allows a parent to view information regarding materials the parent’s child borrows from the school library.”
SB55, meanwhile, “requires a process for a local school board or charter school governing board to follow if the board chooses to adopt or approve instructional materials for classroom use across the school district or charter school.”
EveryLibrary, a national political action committee, told The Associated Press last month it was tracking at least 121 different proposals introduced in legislatures this year targeting libraries, librarians, educators and access to materials. Four such bills were considered by the Utah Legislature during the last session, and two (see above) were signed into law.
The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. in 2022 was the highest in the 20 years, according to the American Library Association.
“If folks are outraged about the Bible being banned, they should be outraged about all the books that are being censored in our public schools,” said Kasey Meehan, who directs the Freedom to Read program at the writers’ organization PEN America.
Written by SAM METZ, The Associated Press. Andrew DeMillo, also with AP, contributed from Little Rock, Arkansas.
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