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Davis School District getting limited feedback as review of Bible continues

By Tim Vandenack - | May 10, 2023

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

The Bible rests on a pew at the Springville Community Presbyterian Church on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

FARMINGTON — As the review of whether the Bible should remain on Davis School District bookshelves lingers, two groups have reached out to school officials to offer their viewpoints — one pro, one con.

Whether their entreaties carry weight, though, seems questionable.

The district’s sensitive materials policy, updated last year as in many school districts across Utah, allows for public comment on books under review for removal from school library bookshelves due to the sexual content in their pages. But there’s a time constraint — feedback must be provided within the first 10 school days of the review process — and limits on who may offer their 2 cents’. “Public comment will be accepted from any community member who lives within the geographic boundary of Davis School District or any employee of Davis School District,” the policy reads.

The request calling for removal of the Bible due to the sexual content it contains was submitted late last year, Dec. 11, much more than 10 school days ag0. The guidelines on who may provide comment, meantime, would rule out the First Liberty Institute and the Freedom From Religion Foundation as permissible commenters.

Whatever the case, the two organizations offered their take on things in letters they sent to school officials late last month in a bid to sway results their direction.

When the news went public last March, the request to remove the Bible, coming from someone affiliated with Davis High School in Kaysville, garnered a rush of attention and strong reaction, perhaps figuring in the submissions from the First Liberty Institute and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Schools around the state last year updated their policies regarding sexual content in books on school shelves in response to passage of House Bill 374, which more specifically defines “sensitive materials” and prohibits them in schools.

Nonetheless, the letters from the groups represent the only outside feedback submitted to the school district on the issue, according to Chris Williams, the district spokesperson. Otherwise, reaction has been fairly muted, even if the topic is a touchy one.

Whoever asked for removal of the Bible — school officials haven’t identified the person — seemed irked that other books were getting pulled from Davis School District shelves and wanted to make the point that the religious book, too, contains sexual references. If other books are to be pulled from schools per the provision of H.B. 374, why not pull the Bible too?

Williams said the review of the Bible by a special Sensitive Materials Committee continues but offered no time frame for completion of the work. “No timeline has been established for the review to be completed,” Williams said in a message to the Standard-Examiner.

A total of 99 books in all have faced review or are in the process of being reviewed by separate committees due to requests put to the district, up from 80 last March. Of those 99, 37 have been removed, 10 have been retained, nine may be retained in junior high and/or high schools and 43, including the Bible, are still under review.

Meanwhile, the arguments brought up by the First Liberty Institute and the Freedom From Religion Foundation offer sharply contrasting views on the issue.

The First Liberty Institute, focused on “defending and restoring religious liberty” in the United States, said the Bible is not “sensitive” as defined in the Utah law that guided formation of the district’s policy.

“Removal of the Bible from all Davis School District libraries risks offering an incomplete education to Davis students,” the letter from the group reads, touting its importance in understanding art, literature and music. It goes on: “Far from being inappropriate, knowledge of the Bible is actually critical to a student’s education.”

Moreover, removing the Bible while allowing other religious books to remain on library shelves, like the Book of Mormon, the Torah and the Quran, would be unfair, according to the group. “Removal of exclusively the Christian Bible for passages of scripture that appear in other religions’ holy books is unconstitutional hostility toward Christianity that the Constitution does not tolerate,” the First Liberty Institute argues.

The letter from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that the books already removed from Davis School District shelves “appear to contain far less ‘objectionable’ material than the Bible, which insensitively tackles issues such as racism, incest and sexual abuse.” One of the group’s missions, according to the letter, is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.”

More broadly, the group argues against the notion of prohibiting books and in favor of having “a diversity of viewpoints in school libraries.” But if the district is to enforce its sensitive materials policy, the Bible cannot be spared because it is a religious book, it says.

“The district must enforce the law equally and may not extend a ‘get out of jail free card’ to books in violation of the law simply because they are religious,” reads its letter. It goes on: “The district must hold religious texts to the same standards it holds all other library books, review them, and, if they contain the same inappropriate content as the Bible, must also remove them under the district’s standards.”

Perhaps in light of the time and effort required in processing requests to remove books from library shelves, Williams noted that Davis School District policy also allows parents to make requests to prohibit their kids from having access to certain books. “To date, only 10 such requests have been received by the district. Each of those requests have been approved,” Williams said.


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