Bill to ban books with descriptions of sex from Arizona schools moves forward

Proposal amended to remove ban on mentions of homosexuality

By: - March 16, 2022 9:53 am

Photo by Kennedy Library | Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

A bill that would essentially ban the teaching of books like “The Color Purple,” “The Canterbury Tales” and “Atlas Shrugged” from Arizona schools because they contain frank descriptions of sex and sexuality moved forward in the Senate Tuesday.

The legislation bans schools from teaching or directing students to study any material that is “sexually explicit,” which the bill defines as “masturbation, sexual intercourse or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or if such person is female, breast.” An earlier version of the bill also included homosexuality but the bill was later amended to remove the reference.

An amendment was also added to the bill by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, that allowed for classical literature, early American literature and literature needed for college credit to still be allowed, but only with parental consent.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, the sponsor of House Bill 2495, argued before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill was not about “sex ed” and was instead about keeping sexually explicit material out of the hands of children.

However, the bill has ties to a group who has been fighting against sex education in the state and Hoffman continued to cite examples from a book that caused a firestorm among conservative activists in 2019.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Hoffman once again showed images, which he previously presented in the House Education Committee, that he said he had to get “clearance” with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and legislative attorneys before printing. One image was a cartoon of a man and woman having sex, while others were cartoons of a boy masturbating.

They come from a 1994 book, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” that has been a frequent target of bans for its depictions of puberty, sex and masturbation. The book is aimed at teaching children 10 and older about sexual health, emotional health and relationships. It contains sections on puberty, pregnancy and sexual orientation, as well as full-color illustrations of naked people.

“There is some really great literature that I just listed, that kids are going to miss out on the opportunity to learn,” Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix said after listing classic books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Kite Runner.”

Hoffman questioned if the books would be in the curriculum, stating that as a graduate of the Arizona school system he did not read many of the books Marsh had listed and if they would have time to read that many books in a school year.

When Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, criticized the book in 2019, he did not present proof that the book was in circulation at any Arizona schools. It’s so often the subject of attacks that the book’s author, Robie Harris, sits on the board of the National Coalition Against Censorship. And the Phoenix New Times reported in 2019 that there was no evidence the book was being used anywhere in the state.

Bowers pointed to the book when attacking comprehensive sex education. Other elected officials have called for the banning of the book, as well.

Geoff Esposito, of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said that if the bill were to pass it would also be deemed unconstitutional because it imposes differing restrictions on books due to their content, with the legislature acting as a “censor.”

The bill passed along party lines and will head to the full Senate. It has already passed out of the full House, also along party lines.

The images Hoffman presented are the same as those used by the Christian advocacy group Family Watch International, which opposes homosexuality and sex education, and its affiliate, the Protect Arizona Children Coalition, to rally against comprehensive sex education. Both groups were present at the committee and the Protect Arizona Children Coalition spoke in favor of the bill.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated Family Watch International as a hate group due to its vehemently anti-LGBT views.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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