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Utah Republicans are furious schools banned the Bible to comply with their book-banning law
"It’s embarrassing for the state," said one Republican with no self-awareness
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Earlier this month, in one of the funniest repercussions from the right-wing book-banning crazy, the KJV Bible was removed from the shelves in one Utah school district after an unnamed parent said it violated a law prohibiting school books with “pornographic or indecent” content.
Republican lawmakers in the state are now furious that their attempts to censor certain books have ensnared their personal favorite book in the process.
A quick recap in case you need it: Last year, Utah lawmakers passed a bill paving the way for the banning of school books that contain “pornographic or indecent” content. Those words, however, were not defined, allowing right-wing groups to declare just about anything they don’t like as unfit for kids.
That’s why it was amusing when at least one parent moved to get the Bible on that list.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reported, a parent submitted a formal request last December to get the Bible banned from Davis High School in Kaysville. While the submitter’s name was redacted, the content of the request was glorious.
“Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide,” the parent wrote in their request, listing topics they found concerning in the religious text. “You’ll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition.”
“Get this PORN out of our schools,” the parent wrote. “If the books that have been banned so far are any indication for way lesser offenses, this should be a slam dunk.”
The parent in question didn’t just say all this. Included in the demand was an 8-page list of specific verses that justified the request. Here was just the beginning:
The parent also included this bit of sarcasm when introducing the list:
“I thank the Utah Legislature and Utah Parents United for making this bad faith process so much easier and way more efficient. Now we can all ban books and you don’t even need to read them or be accurate about it. Heck, you don’t even need to see the book!”
Was it trolling? Sure. But the request was superficially no different from the other ones conservative parents were making, and the school district said it would review the request just as they were doing with all the others they received.
The gambit worked. The King James Version of the Bible was soon removed from the shelves of 7-8 schools in the district because it contained “vulgarity or violence.” (Because the KJV Bible was the only one directly mentioned in the complaint, other translations were allowed to stay up on the shelves in a few schools.) High school students would have access to it but younger students would not. At least until all appeals were exhausted and the decision was overturned.
The Republican lawmaker who wrote the book-banning law, Ken Ivory, initially dismissed the complaint against the Bible, calling it a “mockery” of the law. But a couple of weeks ago, he reversed course and agreed that the Bible should be removed from school shelves because “Traditionally, in America, the Bible is best taught, and best understood, in the home, and around the hearth, as a family.”
Ivory highlighted the awkward position conservatives found themselves in: Whatever reasons they wanted to cite to ban other books, the Bible would always contain so much worse.
Now, other Republican lawmakers in Utah are demanding answers.
On Monday, officials from the Davis School District were called in to the GOP-led Administrative Rules Committee to explain how they allowed this to happen.
“You should be ashamed,” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove.
“This is offensive,” added Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.
Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, said taking the religious text off shelves of elementary and middle schools in the district was “bogus” and a move toward “accepting the religion of atheism and hedonism.”
The administrators remained professional, explaining that they were just following the law those Republicans had voted for, and there was a process in place to reverse the decision. But they insisted they were just playing by the rules.
“Our intent is to follow the law,” said Superintendent Dan Linford. “That has been our earnest intent.”
The Republican response was telling. They said, in a variety of ways, that their law against indecent content wasn’t supposed to include anything in the Bible. Or at least they didn’t consider inappropriate content inappropriate if it appeared in a their holy book rather than a young adult novel.
“There is no other book out there that has the same value as the Bible,” said Rep. Strong, citing the text’s use in the political foundations for America and in inspiring art across the world.
Strong said the Bible has also been the first book from which many people have learned to read.
“The Bible and some of these things are core to us,” he said. “We must stand for these things. … The Bible does have some things that are questionable, but they’re implicit, not explicit. There’s no detail.”
Rep. Brammer also questioned how the committee “didn’t find any serious literary value in the Bible?” If that’s the case, he added, “your system is broken. There is no way to get there without a broken system.”
“Frankly, this is embarrassing,” he added. “It’s embarrassing for the state, and it’s embarrassing for the school district.”
Brammer is right that this is embarrassing. But it’s the Republicans who voted for the idiotic book-banning law who are the causes of that embarrassment, not the district committee members who applied the law to all books instead of just the non-Christian ones.
Also, plenty of books have value—and more value than the Bible. Other books are just as influential, and many books hold far more meaning for individuals. It’s a matter of opinion to say only the Bible should get a free pass in this case. (And the Bible includes plenty of explicit, detailed content. Just ask an atheist to show you where.)
No one is saying the Bible doesn’t have literary value. It does! And so do just about all the other books conservatives are eager to ban because they portray LGBTQ people in a positive light, or because they detail the trauma of slavery, or because they are deemed controversial by people who hate for their beliefs to be challenged.
The solution here isn’t to un-ban the KJV Bible. It’s to stop banning books that librarians and other similar professionals deem worthy of inclusion in their institutions.
At one point, Rep. Brammer asked why the district had not banned The Freedom Writers Diary (affiliate link), which is all about teenagers writing honestly about their lives, in its schools. That book contains sexual content because, well, teenagers often have sex lives. If they’re writing honestly, then the topic is going to be covered.
Brammer missed that bigger picture, though, choosing instead to highlight out-of-context passages with sexual content.
“I’m putting the excerpts up because I’m frankly embarrassed to read it out loud,” Brammer said.
Reading what his colleague had projected on the wall, Sen. Bramble then pressured Superintendent Linford, asking if he should be forced to read those passages to the room.
By saying that, Brammer proved the other side’s point. No one should be forced to read anything that makes them uncomfortable, but books should be available for students who want to read them. (The Bible, of course, has plenty of explicitly sexual passages, too, and we can play this game as long as he wants.)
The district, staying professional, said different committees reviewed different books (because there were so many complaints), so there may have been different perspectives at the table.
It’s not hard to guess what they wanted to say, though: Just because a book mentions sex (or any other potentially controversial topic) doesn’t mean it deserves to be banned from school shelves. Children should have options. They should have easy access to books that other people (including adults!) may not want them to read. If conservatives are targeting young adult novels that talk about same-sex attraction, just to name one example, then there’s no reason everyone else shouldn’t target holy books.
For now, Republicans have expressed no intention of revising their law. They just assumed their preferred books would be immune while the books liberals tend to like would be axed. Now that one of the largest school districts in the state has shown that it’ll treat all books the same way, Republicans can’t handle it.
Neutrality, to them, always feels like oppression. That’s what happens when one side is used to getting its way.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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