Public schools are closed for the summer in Utah, leaving their libraries quieter than usual. But the books on their shelves are now the subject of a skirmish, distinct from many other culture clashes over education in the United States.
In this case, the titles in question are the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
On Friday, a person filed a complaint with the Davis School District, just north of Salt Lake City, demanding that the Book of Mormon, a religious text for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be removed from its libraries. Utah is home to the church’s world headquarters and has the highest concentration of members of that faith in the nation.
That request echoed a December one that challenged the King James Version of the Bible, which is held sacred by church members and Christians in general. Both complaints followed the passage of state legislation that prohibited « pornographic or indecent » materials in public schools. The provision, titled Sensitive materials in schoolsit was signed into law in March 2022.
December’s challenge against the Bible, which was reported by The Salt Lake Grandstanddripping with sarcasm.
“I thank the Utah Legislature and Utah Parents United for making this bad faith process so much easier and more efficient,” wrote the complainant, whose name was redacted in a document shared by The Tribune.
“Now we can all ban the books and you don’t even need to read them or be precise,” the complainant added, noting that the Bible contained descriptions of incest, prostitution, rape and infanticide.
Last month, a Davis district committee decided that the Bible should remain available in high school libraries, but not to younger grades. (Someone has since filed an appeal to keep it in circulation for all students.) Christopher Williams, a spokesman for the Davis school district, did not share details about the new Book of Mormon complaint, but said the district would « treated this request just like any other request.
Brooke Stephens, director of curriculum for Utah Parents United, which supported the state bill, said the complaints about religious texts were « trying to downplay the real concerns of parents. »
Ms. Stephens has three children in the borough and challenged several books there, not because they featured racially diverse characters or LGBTQ themes, she said, but because they contained sexually explicit content.
He added that school libraries had more mature picture books that far exceeded what is described in the Bible. « Do you know how many more books you’ll have to remove just for profanity and violence, » she said, « if this is your new baseline? »
Fights over library books have caused bitter rifts in school districts across the United States, and those rifts have been amplified by social media and political campaigning. The battles have often become proxies for larger discussions of issues such as free speech, gender identity, and racial inequality.
Utah is not the first state where the Bible has been revised. Similar complaints have been filed in Texas, Florida and Missouri, according to Education week.
In the US, the vast majority of books that drew complaints were by or about LGBTQ people or people of color, in March relationship found by the American Library Association.
It also found that efforts to ban books nearly doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Conservative groups, including organizations such as Moms for Liberty and Utah Parents United, have pushed for the removal of many books or lobbied for new removal policies.
And increasingly, challenges are being filed against multiple books at once, whereas in the past, libraries received complaints about a single title more frequently, the American Library Association found. This suggested that political campaigning was behind the trend, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
The complaints about religious texts in Utah, he said, were « certainly a kind of defense that could encourage both school boards and state lawmakers to think more carefully about what they’re doing. »
« It highlights the fact that censorship is not the answer, that any book is vulnerable to censorship, » he added. « And that’s not what we’re supposed to want in this country. »
Ken Ivory, the Republican state representative who sponsored last year’s bill, told The Tribune in March that biblical denunciation amounted to « antics that drain school resources. »
But in a declaration on Friday, he signaled confidence in the district’s review process.
The King James Version of the Bible « is challenging reading for elementary or middle school kids on their own, » he said. « Traditionally, in America, the Bible is best taught and best understood, in the home and around the hearth, as a family. »
According to politics of the Davis School District, which cites the state legislation since last year, parents, but also students and staff, can request school libraries to remove books or other « sensitive » material.
A committee, which includes district employees and parents, then reviews the materials to determine whether they may be considered pornographic, indecent, or inappropriate due to violence or profanity. This can take weeks or months.
A record of complaints about district website lists a hundred books that have been challenged there since the law was passed. Committees made decisions on dozens of them, with mixed results: According to the website, some books, such as Sara Gruen’s « Water for Elephants, » were eventually removed from shelves. Others remained, including Alice Sebold’s « The Lovely Bones. »
Dozens more, including the Book of Mormon, are still under review.