Sean Y. Chady: The hypocrisy of Utah’s book ban

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) A "read banned books" sign on the wall at Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City on January 16, 2020.

Utah’s House of Representatives seems convinced that our state’s schools are riddled with “pornographic or indecent material.”

I would be outraged if my child could easily borrow the latest edition of Playboy. I would be horrified if my 8-year-old found a book depicting explicit violence and harm. No wonder the House used this type of language specifically when writing this bill and enacting it into law; sadly, dear Utah parents, the Legislature in enacting HB374 has used this language as a Trojan horse to get what they truly want: A way to outlaw any books they see as too “progressive” for them.

Now, trying to eliminate blatant political books might seem OK with you; we do not want our teachers’ politics to be too apparent in the classroom. However, I would like you to take a few seconds to think about it before moving on with your day, accepting this as just another bill we should quietly accept. First, why use the term “pornographic or indecent material” when it is evident to any parent who has gone through their children’s library that pornography does not exist in them? Why would the Legislature use a law about pornography and indecent material to ban books such as “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, which has minimal depictions of sexuality but does not take on much more sexually explicit books like the bible?

I encourage you to worry about this gross power grab our legislators passed. Even if it is parents who make these requests, the ones with the final decisions are ultimately politicians. They can decide which rapes are educational, just as they did when they did not ban the bible or the Book of Mormon despite a parent’s plea to ban it, but still decided that books like “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison must be restricted to protect our children.

This law also targets titles such as “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. These books have no pornography, and the only indecent material between their pages are depictions of minority experiences; some in the halls of power would like us never to entertain them.

Books about racial minorities are not the only ones targeted; books with any gender and sexual diversity are, too. There seems to be an assumption that one becomes gay just because one might read or see another gay individual. If that were true, many of the American and world population would be gay just by watching “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Modern Family,” two wildly successful shows depicting gay people.

We must fight this bill vehemently as a nation, especially as Utahns. Book bans are the actions of totalitarian regimes that are afraid of their citizens thinking too much. Do we want to be associated with Freedom of Speech, or do we want to be put in the same category as the book burns of Nazi Germany? Do we honestly believe that our children are such sheep that they can be so easily coaxed into believing something just because they read it once? Why are lawmakers so terrified of letting their children think? And most importantly, why are they using language that does not reflect the true intention of their bill?

If this was not enough to make you worried, let me leave you with this last question. Would you still be comfortable with this bill if suddenly all the individuals deciding which books to ban would switch their ideological affiliations? Would you still think this bill is appropriate if books speaking about religion in any way were forbidden? Would you be OK if white history were suddenly deemed pornographic or indecent and relegated from our school libraries? These questions are a stark reminder of the dangers inherent in allowing such sweeping powers over the written word. I beseech you to contact your local representative to repeal HB374 and engage your communities to educate them about the true nature of this bill.

Sean Y. Chady, op-ed

Sean Chady, an MSW student at the University of Utah and experienced intern therapist with a diverse background in therapy settings, offers valuable insights into the topic at hand.