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‘Pornographic or indecent’ book ban in Utah schools advances on a near party-line vote

The general description and highlighted provisions of Republican Rep. Ken Ivory's HB 374 bill.
Utah State Legislature
The general description and highlighted provisions of Republican Rep. Ken Ivory's HB 374 bill.

A bill banning pornographic materials from classrooms passed the Utah House mostly along party lines. The only Democrat to vote for it was Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper.

“A number of parents have brought forward concerns that there are materials in their schools that meet the standards a definition for pornographic or indecent materials,” said bill sponsor Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, “and their concerns have not been recognized in many cases.”

HB 374 also requires the State Board of Education and the Utah Attorney General’s office to give schools guidance and training on how to identify “sensitive materials.”

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, a former teacher, said she worried about how this standard would be applied. She said a Black man recently attended a House Democratic caucus meeting and said he didn’t want his children and grandchildren reading “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison because it contains racial epithets.

“He clearly didn't understand Toni Morrison's purpose in writing that book, which was to condemn racism, to show that racial epithets — the damage they do to children of color,” she said. “And why do you think it's called The Bluest Eye? Because that girl wanted to have blue eyes and light skin and she was bullied. And yes, she was sexually assaulted. It's also about the oppression of women and violence against women.”

Spackman Moss said that’s not appropriate for younger kids, but is for high school students.

“My fear is it's going to draw in books like Toni Morrison's and others which have great value,” she said. “The purpose of literature is to illuminate our lives and the human condition. And part of that is showing us the darker side.”

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said books in schools should be evaluated.

“It's an opportunity for parents to get actively involved in their local level decision making,” he said. “Books have to stand on their own merit and when they're reviewed, they're valuable, they send a message that we want all of our students to know and be able to understand and to implement in their lives. That's the kind of literature that we want our kids exposed to.”

The bill needs to be approved in the Senate before the session ends Friday night.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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