Utah’s 4th Congressional District Representative Burgess Owens stirred controversy during a recent House Subcommittee hearing on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. While discussing the removal of “explicit” content from school libraries, Owens made the erroneous assertion that the Bible had been banned for all Americans since 1963.
Holding up a copy of the Bible, Owens stated, “One of our nation’s most consequential books, banning was done by Supreme Court in 1963, when officially it mandated the Bible reading, this book, is banned from all of us.” He further suggested that due to this banning, anything related to the Bible on a federal level could no longer be read, potentially deeming it “unconstitutional” even to hold up the Bible.
However, Owens’ claim is factually inaccurate. He seemed to be referring to the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, which did not ban the Bible from schools but declared that legally or officially mandated Bible reading or prayer in public schools is unconstitutional under the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The hearing, titled ‘Protecting kids: Combatting graphic, explicit content in school libraries,’ also witnessed Republican members trying to distance themselves from accusations of “book-banning” and anti-LGBTQ+ bias. LGBTQ+ books and those addressing themes of race have frequently been targeted for removal in US schools. A PEN America study for the 2021-2022 school year reported more than 2,532 instances of individual book bans, with nearly half of the banned titles featuring LGBTQ+ themes or characters. Award-winning authors worldwide have joined the chorus against such anti-LGBTQ+ book bans.