Utah lawmakers rail against ‘embarrassing’ decision over the Bible in Davis schools
Calling it an embarrassment for the state, Utah lawmakers told representatives from the Davis School District they should be “ashamed” that their book review process allowed the Bible to be removed from some schools.
Superintendent Dan Linford, board President Liz Mumford and Assistant Superintendent Logan Toone were grilled at the June 12 Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight Committee by lawmakers who proclaimed the value they saw in the religious text and wanted to know more about the decision, as well as the district’s overall book review process.
Linford agreed that it’s embarrassing that this decision has drawn national attention to the district. But he asked lawmakers to “please allow the policy to play out.”
“We would like to see that to fruition before the policy is judged, at least through the lens of the Bible,” Linford said.
The three repeatedly emphasized that the review committee’s decision to ban the King James Version of the Bible from elementary schools and middle schools has been appealed. This means the decision will be reviewed first by an appeals committee of three board members and then by the full school board.
“As it should be, that when there are points of controversy and something is appealed, it should go to the board, it should go to an elected body,” Linford said.
The review of the Bible followed a parent complaint that came in the wake of other book challenges and removals from school libraries using the state’s “sensitive materials” law. In the complaint, the parent thanked lawmakers “for making this bad faith process so much easier and way more efficient.”
While the review committee decided that the Bible did not violate the state’s definition of “sensitive materials,” meaning pornographic or indecent, they did conclude it was not age-appropriate due to “vulgarity” and “violence.” According to the district’s policies, if a review committee decides that a book is not age-appropriate but does not contain “sensitive material,” they have to take into consideration whether the book has “serious” value for minors, expert reviews, the committee members’ own backgrounds and community standards.
Lawmakers pointed to that section of policy and said the review committee must have decided that the Bible did not have enough “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.”
Rep. Brady Brammer, R- Pleasant Grove, said if a review committee could decide that the Bible has no “serious literary value,” then the district’s system for reviewing books is “broken.”
“There is no way to get there without a broken system, or people out there to destroy the moral basis of our society. You cannot arrive there. There's absolutely no way. You should be ashamed that this system did this. When that appeal comes up there, it should be the shortest appeal that you've ever seen,” Brammer said.
Lawmakers also questioned why some books that have been challenged in the district have stayed on library shelves after a review, but the Bible has been removed.
“Are you telling me that the Davis board, that you, can't define the difference between that which is depicted in the Bible and that which is depicted in hardcore porn?” Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said.
During the last school year, the Davis School District had up to 15 review committees operating at a time. Mumford said if she were on a review committee, she might have made a different decision, but every committee is different.
“We're talking about a wide variety of different perspectives weighing in on these committees,” Mumford said.
Toone said the district and the committees would benefit from getting more clarity regarding Utah’s law that required school districts to have book review processes to ban “sensitive materials.”
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said having a law left up to the interpretation of a review committee is a problem the Legislature needs to look at fixing.
“It should never be just subject to the whims of a committee that is unelectable to the people that you guys represent,” Birkeland said.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, was not surprised that the law led to the Bible being banned in some schools. When lawmakers were working on it in 2022, Anderegg said he heard from opponents who said the Bible would eventually be challenged.
“Davis just happens to be the first, but I would expect this to happen across multiple school districts,” Anderegg said.
Anderegg said he finds banning the Bible reprehensible, but that pornographic materials should also be banned. He’s not sure how Utah schools can achieve both goals.
“I don’t blame Davis School District for finding themselves in this conundrum,” Anderegg said.
At the same time, the Davis School District recently received a request from a parent challenging the Book of Mormon, a foundational text for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a copy of that request obtained by KUER, the parent said the Book of Mormon is “very violent.”
The parent wrote, “I don’t want my child reading about murder, rape, and torture or learning that it is okay to murder somebody if God tells them to (Nephi).”
Lawmakers voted to open a bill file that would require a district’s school board to sign off on any book removals since book review committees are not elected. This is the same idea that Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, pitched during a rally at the Capitol on June 7, where he was joined by families and people of faith gathered together to protest the Davis School District’s decision.