(Image courtesy of Rediscovered Books, Caldwell, Idaho)

Some people have become so alarmed by what children might read in school or in libraries that they want books they don’t like removed — immediately. The targeted books include scenes of sexual awakening, gender identity, racism or violence.

Opinion

But why aren’t these alarmists focusing on a book that’s chock-full of incest, rape and gore? I’m talking, of course, about the Bible.

In Genesis 19:30-36, Lot’s daughters get him drunk in a cave and his eldest daughter has incestuous sex with him. Judges 12 tells how an angry mob surrounds a Levite and his concubine, so he appeases them by handing over his companion. What happens next to the sacrificed woman is too gory for me to describe.

Yet the Bible hasn’t been a target of book banners; moreover, some zealots attack books they’ve never read. They just have a list. 

People on the warpath about “dangerous” books started urging libraries and schools to ban books they found objectionable in 2021. That discontent bubbled to the surface during COVID-caused school shutdowns and has now erupted into a culture war. 

In Idaho, where I live, book banners have targeted the state’s three largest cities of Boise, Meridian and Nampa, all in the Treasure Valley in southwest Idaho.  

So far, only Nampa has succumbed to the pressure. Oddly, the book tossing was started by just one woman, Tosha Sweeney, who emailed the Nampa school board to demand that it remove 24 “pornographic” books that sex offenders might use to “plan their attacks.”

To bolster her demand, she cited section 18-1515 of Idaho law, which says a person is guilty of “disseminating material harmful to minors” when they knowingly loan material with detailed sexual descriptions to underage children. The 24 books she cited were all “young adult” books, and parental consent was already required before they could be checked out. 

Book banning campaigns aren’t new in America, but last year the American Library Association said that library staff faced an “unprecedented number of attempts to ban books.”

In a city as big as Nampa, with over 100,000 residents, you’d think one person’s demands would at least require a robust public process before action is taken, yet the school board removed all 24 books “forever.” As it turned out, only 23 books were taken off the shelves because one young adult book on the list had never been bought.

There was no formal review, infuriating some parents who championed free speech and free choice. A month later, they joined students and teachers outside the Nampa school district offices to protest the bans. 

Laura Delaney, who owns Rediscovered Books in nearby Boise, fought back against censorship by giving away 1,500 copies of the banned books — donated by concerned citizens — to Nampa students and teachers. 

“These books are written because authors are trying to figure out the world, and having them share their wisdom with people of all generations and backgrounds makes a difference,” Delaney told reporters.

Then the Idaho state Legislature jumped on the controversy. Last year, House Republicans passed House Bill 666 to hold librarians “criminally liable” for distributing material considered “harmful to minors.” 

“I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff at the public library or anywhere else,” said Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa). 

A misdemeanor conviction for disseminating harmful materials includes up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Many librarians found the law terrifying; some quit their jobs or changed careers. 

The “Idaho library community has lost some good people due to the conflicts centered mostly around book challenges,” state librarian Stephanie Bailey-White told me. 

Thankfully, Idaho’s Senate refused to give the anti-librarian bill a hearing. But lawmakers found another way to punish libraries: They cut $3.8 million from this fiscal year’s original $11.5 million budget for the Commission for Libraries. 

Idaho’s library budget cuts have now made it harder for libraries to stock new books and expand telehealth services for seniors and rural residents. Lawmakers also defunded a statewide e-book program managed by the Idaho Commission for Libraries. 

Book banning campaigns aren’t new in America, but last year the American Library Association said that library staff faced an “unprecedented number of attempts to ban books.” 

The organization said the books most targeted were those about Black or LGBTQIA people. The Bible was not on anyone’s list.

This piece was originally published by Writers on the Range, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about Western issues, and reprinted here with permission.

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She lives in Idaho.

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  1. The best snark I have heard recently on this topic is ” Anyone who wants to ban books or burn them … they are never the good guys “.

    Yup. You know who you are. So do we …

  2. Interesting that the Bible is the primary book that this person objects to when it’s been banned from schools many years. Maybe that is one of our problems, going further and further away from God and his laws.

    1. The Bible is and has been allowed in schools. However, there are a few recent instances of religious zealots trying to get books they didn’t like banned. In the end, the Bible (which they said they were following) got banned along with the books the zealots didn’t like. Ironic eh?

      Religion and bibles are still allowed in public schools. You aren’t correct. Teachers or staff are not allowed to promote one religion out of the 1000’s that are available.

      People believing they are getting closer and closer to their chosen “god” is part of the problem. You can’t reason with the religious and what they believe as faith..

  3. Has Wyoming forgotten Sheppard being strapped to a buckrail and being killed? I am seventy-five years old and have lived in Wyoming my entire life. I went through the education system here and have memories of how queers were harassed and forced into hiding their sexual orientation. I remember being at a local bar and three queer males ordering a drink. They were taken outside and were beat up by the cowboys. I also remember gays being cast out at the University of Wyoming while attending college there. I apologize for calling gays queer. It was how I was brought up. I also remember the black fourteen football players. I am a straight white monogamous father and grandfather. Why can’t we Wyomingites live and let live? I have LGBT friends who have never hurt me in anyway. I value their friendship! To Kill a Mockingbird was required reading when I was in high school. Our English teacher discussed the book and took a busload of students to Salt Lake to see the movie. We also were required to read Fahrenheit about book burning. I also am an avid hunter, veteran and want to keep my guns but can’t understand why anyone needs a weapon of war to kill children and innocent people that are not like me.

  4. What books are you wanting in school libraries? Certainly if parents want their kids reading porn, they should be able to obtain it themselves and provide it to their own kids. Meanwhile kids reading kid books does not seem to be a bad idea.