This year the Utah Legislature passed HB374, a bill that prohibits child access to pornography in schools. Since then, there have been ongoing attempts to misrepresent HB374’s intent and prevent its full implementation.

Many assert that efforts to protect children from school-provided pornographic content are nothing more than racist, bigoted or prudish “book burnings.” If you haven’t actually seen the types of indecent materials at issue, you can review books found in Utah schools online. 

To be clear, HB374 does not call for banning books. It actually applies the exact same content boundaries already in Utah code for materials students may access on their own and parallels a rating system employed by all other forms of media — movies, TV, music and video games. 

Pornography is an addictive stimulant that damages relationships and results in significant costs to individuals and families. Studies indicate that adolescent exposure to pornography is associated with increased risk of engaging in dangerous sexual behaviors. For these and other reasons, Utah’s Legislature and Governor declared pornography a public health crisis.

Bills have been passed to protect children from internet pornography in schools, but students need the same protection from books. The creation of the “New Adult” genre in 2009, intended for ages 18-30, called for books with more detailed sexual content. These often obscene books are now found in many Utah middle and high school settings.

Utah parents are increasingly frustrated as they witness inaction by government and school officials in the face of tremendous opposition to the policies enacted in HB374. The American Civil Liberties Union threatens to sue districts who remove the materials we deem pornographic. The American Library Association pushes policies similar to the unworkable “book challenge” process that Utah schools have adopted, and they award librarians $2000 for defending what they term “intellectual freedom,” including children’s “right to read” obscene books.

Utah parents have petitioned school districts to remove books with obscene content through the challenge process, but their appeals have been shockingly denied. For instance, a large district in Utah recently heard challenges to two indecent books after enactment of HB374. The challenges for both books failed, and the school district will continue to distribute the books and their pornographic content in school settings.

Opponents of HB374 assert that a three-prong test named for the Miller v. California (1973) case must be applied to determine obscenity. But the Miller case was decided before pornography was widely understood to be an addictive stimulant. The case also dealt with the distribution of adult media, not material that is harmful to minors and distributed by public schools.

In another case, Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982), three justices suggested that certain procedures should apply to removing materials from school libraries; however, vulgar materials can clearly be removed. For these reasons, HB374 enacted a provision that obviates the need for the Miller test and declares that materials containing graphic descriptions of a sexual nature as explained in 76-10-1227(1)(a)(i), (ii) and (iii) have no serious value for minors and must be removed from school libraries. Importantly, HB374 includes a provision that allows the USBE to affirmatively approve materials by rule notwithstanding some measure of indecency to allow for true literary works. Thus, the default is to protect children, not to expose them to harm.

As legislators, we are working with the Utah Attorney General’s office and State School Board members to encourage adoption of a rule that will fully implement HB374 and protect minors from the explicit sexual, necrophilic, bestial, sadomasochistic and pedophilic content currently found in many Utah school settings.

We unequivocally declare that freedom of expression is vital to our Constitutional Republic. At the same time, we recognize that local and federal obscenity laws were enacted to protect children from vulgar content, due to the harm it causes. The materials that are inappropriate in school libraries are nonetheless accessible in public libraries, online and in bookstores. Similarly, Utah schools appropriately block electronic access to pornographic content from students that is otherwise widely available online.

HB374 eliminates the dual standard between electronic and printed obscene content in Utah schools by enacting a protective policy that requires removal of this content from school settings for the health and safety of our children. It is time for lawmakers, law enforcement officers, parents, school librarians, school board members and district officials to work together and take action to fully implement HB374 to protect children from these harmful materials.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee is a Republican representing Syracuse in the Utah House of Representatives.

This letter also was signed by Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and Utah Reps. Kelly Miles, Jordan Teuscher, Ken Ivory, Keven Stratton, Walt Brooks, Mike Schultz, Val Peterson, Timothy Hawkes, Jeff Moss, Robert Spendlove, Judy Rohner, Adam Robertson, Jon Hawkins, Kay Christofferson, Mark Strong, Carl Albrecht, Candice Pierucci, Kera Birkeland, Cal Musselman, Mike Petersen, Nelson Abbott, Christine Watkins, Phil Lyman, Jeff Stenquist, Steve Handy, Joel Ferry, Cory Maloy, Brady Brammer, Ryan Wilcox, Mike Kohler, Rex Shipp, Dan Johnson, Casey Snider, Marsha Judkins, Susan Pulsipher, Stephen Whyte, Melissa Ballard, Matt Gwynn, Ray Ward, Karen Peterson, Mike Winder, Cheryl Acton, Lowry Snow, Steve Waldrip, Doug Welton, Jefferson Burton, Doug Sagers and Steven Lund as well as Senate President Stuart Adams and Utah Sens. Chris Wilson, Ann Millner, Evan Vickers, John Johnson, Dan McCay, Keith Grover, Curt Bramble, Lincoln Fillmore, Todd Weiler, Mike Kennedy, Derrin Owens, Wayne Harper, Mike McKell, Jacob Anderegg, Don Ipson, Ron Winterton, Scott Sandall, Kirk Cullimore and David Hinkins.