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Opinion: It’s not discrimination — we are protecting children from pornography

The removal of certain books from school libraries is not based on race, gender or sexual preference content. It is based on sexually explicit content not suitable for children

SHARE Opinion: It’s not discrimination — we are protecting children from pornography
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Recent commentary on the American Family Survey, and a separate op-ed by 40 authors of children’s books, both made the same argument — decrying the removal of books from Utah schools as being motivated by discrimination based on race, gender or sexual preference. This would be concerning if it were the least bit true.

It is not. 

Noticeably absent from both articles was any mention of the graphic and sexually explicit content of the materials currently in many K-12 schools in Utah; so graphic that it cannot be legally repeated or described in this newspaper article; so sexually explicit that our legislative counsel recommend that we not repeat or distribute it without major alteration of written characters and blurring of illustrations; so indecent that parents are not allowed to describe the content at school board meetings.

Certainly, all can agree that there should be some limit to the materials accessible to children at K-12 schools in Utah. Is it not fair to expect that materials so graphic and sexually explicit that they are too indecent for parents (adults) to describe to school board members (also adults) at a school board meeting, are also too graphic and sexually explicit for children?

Exasperated parents have created a website where you can see for yourself the explicit nature of the materials in your children’s specific school and in your specific school district. The website is www.RatedBooks.org

HB374, Sensitive Materials in Schools, the bill I sponsored, which passed this year with bipartisan support, merely applies the same legal standard which has been applied for years to the materials that students might bring to school, to materials provided by schools. This standard is Utah Code 76-10-1235, and adopts by reference Utah Code 76-10-120I, 1203 and 1227. On June 1, 2022, Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a guidance memorandum to school leaders stating that sensitive materials which fail any of these three standards are prohibited.

Utah Code 76-10-1227 defines “Sensitive Materials” as a “description or depiction of illicit sex or sexual immorality, (which) means: (i) human genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal; (ii) acts of human masturbation, sexual intercourse, or sodomy; (iii) fondling or other erotic touching of human genitals or pubic region.” This code section further concludes that these descriptions of sexually explicit content “ha(ve) no serious value for minors.”

Opponents hyperbolize that having a standard for which books are on the limited shelf space in schools means that books like “Catcher in the Rye “or “To Kill and Mocking Bird” would be banned. However, at www.RatedBooks.org these books are rated as 2s on a scale of 1 to 5. Another book, “Two Boys Kissing,” that has significant LGBTQ themes but no graphic or sexually explicit content, is also rated on this site as a 2, i.e. not exceeding the narrow limit of graphic and sexually explicit content set forth in Section 1227.

Please judge for yourself whether the books rated as 4s and 5s that are in your children’s schools right now violate the sensitive materials standard which has existed in Utah Code for years. 

When the discussion is appropriately centered on the sexually explicit, and even pornographic content of the materials in our schools, I suspect that the majority of Utah parents would agree some books should not be in schools and accessible to children. A recent Rasmussen Survey shows that 69% of voters believe books containing explicit sexual depictions of sex acts, should not be present in public high school libraries. This number rises to 79% for middle schools and 85% for elementary schools. 

Mentioned in the recent article were accusations that this bill attempts to suppress and demonize books by authors belonging to marginalized communities. Certainly, there should be zero tolerance for any such discrimination in our policies. There are many inclusive stories that should be available to our children which do not expose them to mentally, psychologically and even physically damaging pornographic content.

Utah parents deserve the peace of mind, knowing their children will be protected from explicit and pornographic material in their schools. Removing books that contain this material is consistent with state laws and statutes on the books for decades, as well as with the mountains of research that such materials are harmful, especially to children. In a compulsory education system, schools should be the safest place on earth for parents to entrust their children. 

As Utahns, let’s all commit to protect our children while continuing to foster a great learning environment in our schools.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, is a member of the Utah House of Representatives, a father of four children raised in the Jordan School District, and grandfather to three precious tots.