Religious leaders, Republican lawmakers and a Utah State Board of Education member had two distinct messages to share during a hastily called Capitol news conference on Wednesday in response to the Davis School District’s decision to remove the Bible from elementary and middle schools.
The first was the decision was not consistent with a 2022 law to ban “pornographic and indecent” books from Utah schools. The second was an explicit endorsement of including the Bible in the state’s public schools. The latter was much louder than the first.
Last week, a committee appointed by the Davis School District removed the Bible from elementary and middle schools, responding to a parent’s complaint that the book contained “vulgarity and violence.” The Bible remains available in Davis County high schools.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsor of the law that removed “sensitive materials” from schools, says the ruling perverted the original intent of his law. He wants the Legislature to address the controversy immediately by adding a requirement for a local school board to sign off on a decision to remove a book during a public meeting.
“There’s a simple fix. We should require any final determination (to remove a book) has to be made or ratified by the board so that parents can hold them accountable, and not by a secret, unelected anonymous committee,” Ivory said.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Spencer Cox are considering a special session to speed up the timeline for a special election to replace Rep. Chris Stewart, who will officially leave Congress on Sept. 15. If that happens, Ivory wants to add this issue to the agenda.
“It is up to the Legislature to close that gap so that it doesn’t happen in any other district,” Ivory said, urging the American flag and Bible-waving crowd to pressure Cox to do just that.
Nichole Mason, the co-founder of the conservative parents’ rights group Utah Parents United, said she was baffled by the decision to remove the Bible when her own challenge to the science fiction manga series “Assassination Classroom” has yet to be addressed.
“There are graphic images and depictions of killing and sex. I’m curious how we can say the Bible is inappropriate, yet Assassination Classroom is appropriate,” Mason said.
Assassination Classroom features a tentacled monster who threatens to destroy the Earth. The beast starts working as a junior high school teacher and gives students a chance to kill it before the planet is destroyed. The cartoon book has been banned in some Florida and Wisconsin schools, Insider reports.
“God bless America that we can challenge any book, and God bless America that we can be involved in that process,” Mason added.
Leave it to the school board?
Ivory may have difficulty convincing other lawmakers that this issue is so urgent that it requires swift legislative action. Sen. John Johnson, R-Ogden, would prefer to let the Davis School Board weigh in first, a view he says is shared by several colleagues.
“I think we’re going to be cautious on this until the Davis School Board speaks because I really believe they need to come back and say something about this,” Johnson said.
Legislative leaders told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday afternoon it was unlikely that the topic would be included as part of a potential special session agenda.
The Davis School Board, through an email statement, said any action by lawmakers was premature as the decision to ban the Bible had been appealed.
“A request to appeal the earlier decision has been submitted, and an appeals committee, made up of three members of the Board of Education, will review that decision before making a recommendation to the full school board for its consideration. The district continues to follow the state law, and it has done so with 60 titles its reviewed and 37 titles that have been removed from school libraries. Its sensitive materials policy is written so that committees, composed of a majority of parents chosen by lottery on each review committee, make those initial decisions,” the statement said.
The remainder of Wednesday’s new conference was more multifaith church service than policy discussion. Elected officials stood arm-in-arm with religious leaders and activists who loudly proclaimed the Bible and the Book of Mormon should be a fundamental part of Utah’s public school curriculum.
Tad R. Callister, a former Sunday school general president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, strongly endorsed including Christian texts in public schools.
“The whole purpose of the Bible is to help us become like Jesus Christ. Therefore, I hope it will become an integral part of our schools, which is not only to give information to our minds, but character to our hearts, and the greatest character of all is Jesus Christ,” Callister said.
Pastor Dave Mallinak of Ogden’s Berean Baptist Church said the Bible was a potent antidote to the “indoctrination” of children that is taking place in public schools, musing that’s why the Davis School District allowed it to be removed.
“We agree with the Davis School board on one count. The Bible is a dangerous book, and especially dangerous to the public school system,” Mallinak said. “If we let children read the Bible for themselves, they just might learn to recognize the poverty and bankruptcy of the secularist worldview. The truth could, in fact, set them free from the indoctrination.”
Pastor Chuck Beickel of Faith Baptist Church seemingly threatened Davis County education officials with divine judgment if they did not backtrack on the decision.
“Noah Webster said the Bible must be considered a great source of all the truth by which men are to be guided in government, as well as in all social transactions. I would challenge the Davis County School Board with this because you will answer to God,” Beickel said, threatening board members with judgment from above.
Beickel quoting Webster is significant. Not only did he author the famous dictionary that bears his name, but he also championed the use of the Bible in schools following his conversion to Christianity.
Utah political leaders mostly quiet on Bible ban
It wasn’t just religious figures endorsing the use of the Bible in classrooms. Utah State Board of Education member Christina Boggess did not mention the policy that led to removing the religious text.
“I want to remind us today that all scripture is breathed by God. All scripture is profitable for instruction, for conviction, for correction, for training in righteousness. I would also like to remind us that there is no good without God and no good outside of God,” Boggess said as several crowd members responded with amens.
Boggess, elected to her first term last November, noted the semi-transparent ceilings in the Utah House and Senate chambers at the Capitol, which she sees as a reminder that the almighty is watching.
“One day will come when each of us will stand before Yahweh himself, and we will account for our actions,” Boggess said.
Gov. Spencer Cox would not comment on the endorsements for including the Bible in classrooms. A spokesperson for Cox referred The Tribune to his statement, which was read during Wednesday’s event.
“Our great nation was founded with freedom of religion as a core principle. Our children need to know that and having access to religious texts, including the Bible, in school libraries should be a key element of their education,” Cox’s statement read.
Legislative leaders were also silent on Wednesday’s call to mix religion and public schools.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, declined to comment, only saying, “He (Wilson) isn’t involved in this topic right now.”
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, did not respond to questions from The Tribune.
Correction, July 21, 12:25 p.m. • This story has been updated to correct a quote by Tad R. Callister.