Tribune editorial: Book ban may have a silver lining, teachers go public in defense of school spending and Utah should do more for its remarkable women

Literature that teaches empathy and understanding? Not around here.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A woman walks past dozens of banned books displayed on a table in Weller Book Works in Trolley Square for Banned Book Week in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023.

“What I tell kids is, Don’t get mad, get even. Don’t spend time waving signs or carrying petitions around the neighborhood. Instead, run, don’t walk, to the nearest nonschool library or to the local bookstore and get whatever it was that they banned. Read whatever they’re trying to keep out of your eyes and your brain, because that’s exactly what you need to know.” ― Stephen King

HB29, a new law that makes it much easier for a few outliers to ban books from every school district in the state of Utah, is a particularly odious piece of legislation.

Rammed through by the Legislature’s Republican supermajority, and cravenly signed by Gov. Spencer Cox, the law would remove from the shelves of every public school library in the state any book that has been determined to contain “objective sensitive material” by either three public school districts or two school districts and five charter schools.

(The Utah State Board of Education would have the power to override any ban for districts that didn’t impose it themselves.)

What’s that mean? Well, judging from recent controversies, probably any book that portrays LGBT people as human beings. Or that reminds us of how despicably people have treated each other over the years.

Local control? Community standards? Free thought and inquiry? Literature that teaches empathy and understanding? Not around here.

Not if you can pressure school boards representing as little as 10% of the state’s student population to capitulate to the book-banners. Who, as the social media meme explains, have never been the good guys at any time in history.

Here’s the silver lining.

A powerful and humane book that might otherwise gather dust on the shelves of a school library (Do most kids even go to their school library anymore?) may now receive a lot of attention and find a new audience among thinking people who will now seek it out. If only to spite those who want to tell them what they can and cannot read.

This law, after all, only applies to school libraries. It does not apply to municipal libraries, The King’s English Bookshop or Barnes and Noble.


Utah teachers stand against defunding of public schools. Finally.

Labor unions don’t have much pull in Utah, public sector unions least of all.

So it was heartening to see the Utah Education Association screw its courage to the sticking place and come out against a proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution that would create yet another means for the Legislature to undermine public education.

Voters in November will be asked to approve a ballot measure that would remove the constitutional mandate that all funds raised from the state income tax go to public schools and universities or to social services for children or the disabled.

It’s clearly a bad idea that should be rejected.

The UEA had stayed on the sidelines of the controversy through the last two legislative sessions. Probably the association’s leadership just didn’t want to rub lawmakers the wrong way.

But with every passing session, it has become more clear that the Legislature has little concern for public education. It demonstrates that by cutting the income tax, moving more money to private schools and showing that they trust teachers with guns but not with books.

So Utah’s teachers now see that they have little to lose, and perhaps much to gain, by objecting to the proposed constitutional amendment and taking their case to the people.

Because the Legislature, obviously, isn’t paying attention in class.

Celebrate Women’s History Month in Utah

March is Women’s History Month. That’s something that has special meaning in Utah, as we’ve had a lot of women’s history hereabouts.

Utah was a leader in the Women’s Suffrage campaign. It was the first state to grant women the right to vote, first exercised by Seraph Young, grandniece of Brigham Young, on Feb. 14, 1870, in a Salt Lake City municipal election.

The Beehive State was also the home of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first woman ever elected to a state Senate in the U.S. She was also a pioneering physician and advocate for both women’s rights and public health. Utah has elected to send a statue of her to the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

More recently, women have achieved many positions of power and importance, including mayor’s posts in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Provo, St. George, West Valley City, Sandy and South Jordan. Suggesting that, when it comes to the level of government most responsible for the way people live day to day, women are trusted to get things done.

It wasn’t that long ago that five of Utah’s top institutions of higher learning were led by female presidents.

With so much to note with women’s history in Utah, it is disappointing that we aren’t doing nearly enough to lift up women today.

We are consistently rated as the worst state for women, with the worst wage gap and a shamefully low rate of women who graduate from college.

Utah is pushing for draconian abortion limits, refuses year after year to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, won’t approve helpful things such as tax breaks for businesses that offer child care to families of employees.

The fact that only a quarter of the Utah Legislature is female may help to explain all of that.

Our notable past should be more than frescos on a wall, nice as those are. It should be a guide for the future of women in our state.