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Utah school district allows Bible back in school after parents complain

A Utah school district has reversed its earlier decision to ban the Bible from elementary and middle schools. It comes as more states allow the teaching of the Bible as history and literature within the Supreme Court guidelines which allow it.

Officials from the Davis School District, which educates 72,000 students north of Salt Lake City, said at a board meeting that the district had determined the sacred text was age-appropriate for all district libraries. In allowing the Bible to be accessible to students regardless of their grade level, the board sided with 70 people who filed appeals after it was banned last month.

“Based on their assessment of community standards, the appeal committee determined that the Bible has significant, serious value for minors which outweighs the violent or vulgar content it contains,” the committee wrote.

The committee’s reversal is the latest development in the debate over a Utah law allowing parents to challenge “sensitive materials” available to children in public schools. Parents’ rights activists successfully lobbied for the legislation in 2022 amid a wave of new laws targeting the materials accessible in schools and libraries — particularly about race, gender and sexuality.

In Utah, the effort to ban the Bible reignited debate about the standards used to judge the content in books. The initial challenge was filed by an unnamed person who criticized the conservative parents’ activists clamoring to remove books from libraries and the standards they have lobbied the state to adopt.

At Davis School District’s board meeting, school board members chided lawmakers for blaming the majority-parent committee, which it said was convened and had made its initial decision — and weighed appeals — in line with the law. “The magnitude of the value of the Bible as a literary work outweighs any violence or profanity which may be contained in the book,” Davis School District Board Vice President Brigit Gerrard said.

In statehouses from Florida to Arkansas, Republicans have enacted laws that expand parents’ power to challenge what is available in schools and libraries and, in some places, subject librarians to criminal penalties for providing materials deemed harmful to minors.

In the 1963 Abington v. Schempp ruling, the nation’s highest court found that while just Bible reading or teacher-led prayer was not permissible, the court found consensus in the 8-1 decision stating that while government can’t promote or denigrate religion, the subject of faith and its role in history, literature and the arts has educational value and can be taught in public schools.

“Schempp became the founding document for teaching about religion in school,” says Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the center’s Religious Freedom Education Project. “It is a very powerful document … that we still use today in working out these issues” today.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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