The Utah legislature is changing course on the banning of the Bible under the law it wrote

Rep. Ken Ivory initially called the parents’ request to remove the religious text from the Davis School District “very regrettable.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at the Salt Lake City Capitol. Ivory supported legislation banning “pornographic or indecent” books from school libraries. He was initially opposed to his action being used to ban the Bible, but now says he supports the removal of the religious text from elementary and middle schools in the Davis School District.

After previously calling a parent’s challenge to the Bible a “mockery” and a political ploy, the Utah legislature, who wrote the law through which the parents requested its removal, now says that with the decision a School district agrees to ban religious text from elementary and middle schools.

In a public statement, reversing course, posted on his Facebook page Thursday night, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said the book would make “challenging read” for younger children. And he thinks it’s best if they read it at home.

“Traditionally, in America, the Bible has been best taught and best understood in the home and hearth of the family,” he said.

The legislature’s law banning “pornographic or offensive” books from schools came into force in 2022 after conservative groups fretted over books they felt were inappropriate — mostly texts about the LGBTQ+ community.

In December, a parent in the Davis School District said they were frustrated with the books that were removed by this right-wing effort. So they questioned the King James Bible, writing in a complaint that it was time to remove “one of the most sex-oriented books out there.”

“Incest, masturbation, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape and even infanticide,” the parents wrote in their application, listing issues they found concerning in the religious text. “You will no doubt find that the Bible under the Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227 has “no serious values ​​for minors” as it is pornographic under our new definition.”

When that motion became public in March — and drew national attention — Ivory said he opposed his move to banning the Bible being used, calling it a misreading of intent.

Among the books Ivory had worried about when drafting the measure were graphic novels with drawings that Parliament’s attorneys had told him he couldn’t show in public meetings because “they violate state and federal… obscenity laws would be violated”. These include Gender Queer, a novel about the author’s journey to self-identity that includes some scenes of illustrated characters engaging in sexual behavior.

“The bill and things like that had a purpose, which is very unfortunate,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune of the Bible complaint.

Ivory said at the time that he didn’t take the parents’ challenge as a serious request. He suggested, “It’s very sad when people downplay and ridicule that.”

Based on the code he wrote, a school library book is indecent if it involves explicit sexual arousal, stimulation, masturbation, intercourse, sodomy, or fondling. According to prosecutors, in such situations, the material does not need to be “considered as a whole” or left on the shelf during a review. If there is a scene with any of these acts, it should be removed immediately.

A Davis School District books committee reviewed parents’ complaints about the Bible and concluded this week that the text would remain on the shelves in secondary schools on the grounds that it did not violate that law.

But it’s being removed from elementary and middle schools because it contains “vulgarity or violence.” A spokesman for the district said he believed there were copies of the Bible in seven or eight schools from which the book would be removed.

The Salt Lake Tribune will update this developing story.

Justin Scaccy

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