Frances Floresca: Removing material with sexual content is not ‘book banning’

People, libraries and schools need to do better when distinguishing between books with sexual content and nonsexual content.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Bible is read aloud at the Utah Capitol, Nov. 25, 2013.

When the Davis County School District removed the Bible from several elementary and junior high schools after an unidentified individual complained it is “pornographic,” it received backlash and criticism from people not just in Utah, but all over the country.

Several weeks after its removal earlier this month, the Utah Legislative Administrative Rules Review and General Oversight Committee, as well as the Education Interim Committee, held meetings surrounding HB 374 Sensitive Materials in Schools, which the individual cited in her complaint to DCSD.

The Bible was reinstated in elementary and junior high schools a week after the meetings.

Over time, people have claimed the law bans books from the classroom, but virtually nobody is in favor of books being banned. Banning books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Hunger Games” is different from having content in schools with “sensitive materials,” such as “Fun Home” and “Gender Queer,” which have clear obscene and pornographic images.

It is clear virtually nobody wants books banned from schools, and no one is being stopped from reading “sensitive materials” outside the classroom. It should be up to the parents to decide whether or not they want their children to read these materials.

A YouGov and CBS poll found 85% of adults do not want books banned from schools. However, an October 2022 Rasmussen poll reported 69% of voters do not want “explicit sexual depictions of sex acts” in high school libraries, 79% in middle schools and 85% for elementary schools. The same poll found 89% of voters believe it is important to inform parents what is being taught and shared in schools.

People’s taxpayer dollars are going to these schools, so it is vital for them to be as transparent as possible. It is the people’s right to know if there is obscene and pornographic content in the classrooms, and it is their right to ask them to be removed.

Utah code clearly states educators cannot “use school equipment to intentionally view, create, distribute, or store pornographic or indecent material in any form” and “expose students to material the educator knows or should have known to be inappropriate given the age and maturity of the students.”

It also provides instances of what is considered to be “sensitive material,” including material “harmful to minors,” “description or depiction of illicit sex or sexual immorality,” “nude or partially denuded figure” or “description or depiction of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sadomasochistic abuse, or excretion.”

These are known as the “bright line standards” for these materials.

In the June 14 meeting, several lawmakers explained how Utah code is clear about what are “sensitive materials.” Some said if a book clearly meets those “bright line standards,” it does not necessarily need a review committee. If a child or parent can easily identify a book with pornographic content, it should be immediately removed.

In my testimony during the meeting I stated that people, libraries and schools need to do better when distinguishing between books with sexual content and nonsexual content.

Individuals who testified noted it takes a while to get through all the books reported to have “sensitive material,” and seeing which books have actual explicit content such as “Gender Queer” found in Alpine School District and “Fun Home” found in Park City School District, should be immediately removed to allow discussion for other books where “bright line standards” may not be clear.

The Bible does not meet the “bright line standards,” and it does not depict or even describe explicit sexual content. While there are some passages in the Bible that refer to sex, these passages are not explicit and are not intended to be sexually stimulating.

Nobody is calling for book bans. Parents want to make sure their taxpayer dollars do not go to activities or materials unrelated to student achievement.

(Frances Floresca)

Frances Floresca is an education and free-market policy analyst who has worked for free-market organizations in Utah, the District of Columbia and Nevada. She grew up in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business in 2019.