SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) — Bibles will return to the shelves in a northern Utah school district that provoked an outcry after it banned them from middle and elementary schools last month.
Officials from the Davis School District, which educates 72,000 students north of Salt Lake City, said at a board meeting Tuesday that the district had determined the sacred text was age-appropriate for all district libraries. In allowing the Bible to be accessible to students regardless of their grade level, the board sided with 70 people who filed appeals after it was banned last month.
“Based on their assessment of community standards, the appeal committee determined that The Bible has significant, serious value for minors which outweighs the violent or vulgar content it contains,” the committee wrote in a decision published along with school board materials.
The committee’s reversal is the latest development in the debate over a Utah law allowing parents to challenge “sensitive materials” available to children in public schools. Parents’ rights activists successfully lobbied for the legislation in 2022 amid a wave of new laws targeting the materials accessible in schools and libraries — particularly about race, gender and sexuality.
In statehouses from Florida to Arkansas, Republicans have enacted laws that expand parents’ power to challenge what is available in schools and libraries and, in some places, subject librarians to criminal penalties for providing materials deemed harmful to minors. The legislative effort is one prong of a growing push to ban certain titles; the number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the US in 2022 was the highest in 20 years, according to the American Library Association.
In Utah, the effort to ban the Bible reignited debate about the standards used to judge the content in books. The initial challenge was filed by an unnamed person who criticized the conservative parents’ activists clamoring to remove books from libraries and the standards they have lobbied the state to adopt.
“Utah Parents United left off one of the most sex-ridden books around: The Bible,” the challenge said, referring to one of the primary groups involved in curriculum battles. “You’ll no doubt find that the Bible… has no serious values for minors because it’s pornographic by our new definition… If the books that have been banned so far are any indication for way lesser offenses, this should be a slam dunk.”
The challenge also derided a “bad faith process” and said the district was “ceding our children’s education, First Amendment Rights, and library access” to Parents United.
The committee’s decision to remove the Bible vexed advocates for expanding local control and parents’ ability to challenge books. Republican Ken Ivory, the lawmaker who sponsored the state’s “sensitive materials” law at first opposed the Bible’s removal and called the challenge “a mockery.” He later said the text was best read at home but ultimately pushed for its return to schools and attacked the process that removed it from Davis County schools.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month, Ivory said lawmakers should revise the law to ensure book-removal decisions have to be overseen by elected officials at open public meetings, not the kind of committee that decided to remove the Bible from middle and elementary schools in the Davis School District.
At Davis School District’s board meeting on Tuesday, school board members chided lawmakers for blaming the majority-parent committee, which it said was convened and had made its initial decision — and weighed appeals — in line with the law.
“The magnitude of the value of the Bible as a literary work outweighs any violence or profanity which may be contained in the book,” Davis School District Board Vice President Brigit Gerrard said.