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Davis School District officials to now review Book of Mormon’s suitability

By Tim Vandenack - | Jun 5, 2023
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A missionary clutches a copy of the Book of Mormon while contacting people in Ogden in 2003.
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The Book of Mormon

FARMINGTON -- First, the Bible was pulled from library shelves in Davis School District junior high and elementary schools.

Now, the Book of Mormon -- holy scripture to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is in the crosshairs, the target of a review request from someone in the district who wants that religious book pulled from library shelves.

What's more, the Utah lawmaker who co-sponsored 2022 legislation to keep books containing "sensitive materials" off school library shelves, House Bill 374, is speaking out. Rep. Ken Ivory said in response to the Davis School District Bible decision that instructional materials in every school should now face new scrutiny.

In a statement Friday, the West Jordan Republican called on "all Utah school districts, school board members and school officials to immediately and thoroughly review and make a publicly available determination of the age appropriateness of all instructional materials in K-12 schools throughout the state." He didn't elaborate on the reasoning for such a review and didn't immediately respond to queries Monday seeking comment.

Sen. Todd Weiler, the Senate sponsor of H.B. 374, said "X-rated type of material" was the intended target of the bill, not religious texts. But if religious books get pulled along with books with explicit sexual references, that's a "small price to pay," he added

As for the Book of Mormon, it's not yet publicly clear what prompted the request last Friday for a review of whether that book is fit to sit on Davis School District bookshelves. The introduction to the book says it is "comparable to the Bible," coming from records on gold plates translated by Joseph Smith that are said to recount "God's dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas."

"At this point, I have not seen the request and do not know the grounds on which the request was made," Davis School District spokesperson Chris Williams said in a message to the Standard-Examiner, which has filed a public records request to get the information. "There have been no other requests made regarding other religious texts."

One thing seems certain, though, Davis School District is becoming a battleground in the tug-of-war over the push by some to more closely scrutinize books in public schools. The increased attention coincides with the passage of H.B. 374, which spurred school districts across the state, including Davis School District, to revamp their library guidelines to crack down on the presence of "sensitive materials" -- explicit sexual content, essentially -- on school bookshelves.

So far, 101 books have been targeted in the Davis School District, including the Book of Mormon. As the numbers began to rise following passage of H.B. 374, an unidentified individual put forward the challenge to the Bible last December. In a variously scathing and tongue-in-cheek explanation for the request, the petitioner -- who hasn't been publicly identified by school officials -- noted that some Bible passages touch on such themes as incest, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation and more.

Interestingly, in its review of the book, the Davis School District review committee determined the Bible did not contain sensitive material as defined in H.B. 374. The law defines sensitive material as "pornographic or indecent material" as spelled out in Utah State Code 76-10-1235.

Rather, the Davis School District committee determined the Bible contained "vulgarity or violence," also grounds for removal under the school system's sensitive materials policy. The policy gives leeway to consider the age of potential readers in deciding whether to pull books, and the body's May 22 decision applies only to junior high and elementary schools but not high schools. That May 22 decision was appealed on May 31 by someone who thinks the Bible ought to remain in all schools, according to Williams.

In his statement, Ivory said the Davis School District decision on the Bible "sets an important precedent," but he didn't say why. And though H.B. 374's provisions regarding sexually explicit material didn't figure in the Davis School District decision, he defended the legislation.

"While some spirited groups incorrectly dismiss H.B. 374 a 'book banning' bill, H.B. 374, (like the DSD determination) merely addresses age appropriateness, requiring that all instructional materials in all school settings be age appropriate and not contain obscene and indecent materials in accordance with state law," he said.

Ivory didn't express sentiments one way or another about the Bible decision. "Without conceding the merits of the DSD determination, in today's world, the Bible is certainly most effectively taught and understood in the home as a family and in the many churches throughout our state," he wrote.

Weiler, for his part, isn't sure religious books need to be in school libraries. Still, the sexual content in the Bible isn't on par with the sort of explicit sexual description targeted by H.B. 374, he maintains. "There's no graphic, sexual acts that are being described in detail," he said.

A review committee will determine whether the Book of Mormon violates Davis School District book policy. A committee made up of three members of the Davis School District Board of Education will consider the appeal asking that the Bible be reinstated at elementary and junior high schools.

Of the 101 books challenged, some have been pulled and some remain, while others have yet to be reviewed.

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