Some people have become so alarmed by what children might read in school or in libraries that they want books they don’t like removed — immediately. The targeted books include scenes of sexual awakening, gender identity, racism or violence.
But why aren’t these alarmists focusing on a book that’s chock-full of incest, rape and gore? I’m talking, of course, about the Bible.
In Genesis 19:30-36, Lot’s daughters get him drunk in a cave and his eldest daughter has incestuous sex with him. Judges 12 tells how an angry mob surrounds a Levite and his concubine, so he appeases them by handing over his companion. What happens next to the sacrificed woman is too gory for me to describe.
Yet the Bible hasn’t been a target of book banners; moreover, some zealots attack books they’ve never read. They just have a list.
People on the warpath about “dangerous” books started urging libraries and schools to ban books they found objectionable in 2021. That discontent bubbled to the surface during Covid-caused school shutdowns and has now erupted into a culture war.
In Idaho, where I live, book banners have targeted the state’s three largest cities of Boise, Meridian and Nampa, all in the Treasure Valley in southwest Idaho.
So far, only Nampa has succumbed to the pressure. Oddly, the book tossing was started by just one woman, Tosha Sweeney, who emailed the Nampa school board to demand that it remove 24 “pornographic” books that sex offenders might use to “plan their attacks.”
To bolster her demand, she cited section 18-1515 of Idaho law, which says a person is guilty of “disseminating material harmful to minors” when they knowingly loan material with detailed sexual descriptions to underage children. The 24 books she cited were all “young adult” books, and parental consent was already required before they could be checked out.
In a city as big as Nampa, with over 100,000 residents, you’d think one person’s demands would at least require a hearing before action is taken, yet the school board removed all 24 books “forever.” As it turned out, only 23 books were taken off the shelves because one young adult book on the list had never been bought.
There was no formal review, infuriating some parents who championed free speech and free choice. A month later, they joined students and teachers outside the Nampa school district offices to protest the bans.
Laura Delaney, who owns Rediscovered Books in nearby Boise, fought back against censorship by giving away 1,500 of the banned books — donated by concerned citizens — to Nampa students and teachers.
“These books are written because authors are trying to figure out the world, and having them share their wisdom with people of all generations and backgrounds makes a difference,” Delaney told reporters.
Then the Idaho state Legislature jumped on the controversy. Last year, House Republicans passed HB 666 to hold librarians “criminally liable” for distributing material considered “harmful to minors.”
“I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff at the public library or anywhere else,” said Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa.
A misdemeanor conviction for disseminating harmful materials includes up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Many librarians found the law terrifying; some quit their jobs or changed careers.
The “Idaho library community has lost some good people due to the conflicts centered mostly around book challenges,” state librarian Stephanie Bailey-White told me.
Thankfully, Idaho’s Senate refused to give the anti-librarian bill a hearing. But lawmakers found another way to punish libraries: They cut $3.8 million from this fiscal year’s original $11.5 million budget for the Commission for Libraries.
Idaho’s library budget cuts have now made it harder for libraries to stock new books and expand telehealth services for seniors and rural residents. Lawmakers also defunded a statewide e-book program managed by the Idaho Commission for Libraries.
Book banning campaigns aren’t new in America, but last year the American Library Association said that library staff faced an “unprecedented number of attempts to ban books.”
The organization said the books most targeted were those about Black or LGBTQIA people. The Bible was not on anyone’s list.
Crista V. Worthy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She lives in Idaho.