Atheist Group Demands School District Ban Bible over Sexually Obscene Materials Policy
The Chino Valley USD school board is under attack again for its pro-parent policies. On November 16, the board established a complaint process for removing sexually obscene books from school libraries. On Monday, the anti-Christian Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote the school “to request that the [B]ible be removed from Chino Valley USD’s school libraries based on its sexually obscene content.” This is neither the first Chino Valley policy to be attacked in anti-Christian California, nor the first time FFRF has targeted the school district.
It’s not clear what legitimate stake FFRF has, if any, in this latest Chino Valley USD controversy. Their letter simply stated, “A concerned District resident has reported that they recently requested that you remove the [B]ible from District libraries,” and “we are writing to support that local community member.”
The FFRF letter’s non-capitalization of “Bible” seems to serve no purpose other than deliberate disrespect; capitalizing book titles is simply good English grammar, and it does not imply that one takes the book to be good, true, or the literal word of God. It is difficult to imagine that FFRF would not capitalize the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, or other ancient religious texts.
The letter proceeded in that spirit of disrespect, charging the Bible with a “pornographic view of sex and women, lewdness, depravity[,] and sexual violence often ordered or countenanced by the biblical deity.” But the 11 examples they cherry-pick show how little they understand the Bible or its historical and cultural context.
1. “In the [B]ible, rape is not only described, but the victims are forced to marry their rapists,” alleged FFRF, citing Deuteronomy 22:28-29. These verses occur in a section of case law applying the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” to hypothetical cases. The particular case under consideration here is “if a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found.” This bare, factual description is not lurid or obscene — which cannot be said of some books in school libraries — and the topic is entirely appropriate for laws to address.
As to the consequences, FFRF’s description is entirely inaccurate. In that culture, an unmarried woman was economically and physically vulnerable, and a violated woman had virtually no chance at marriage. Verse 29 imposes a fine on the man “because he has violated her,” forces him to provide for her, and prohibits him from ever divorcing her. All these provisions protect the woman, but no penalty is imposed on the woman here. Nor is the woman forced into an abusive marriage, according to other case law, “if her father [who is charged with protecting her] utterly refuses to give her to him” (Exodus 22:17).
2. FFRF continued, “One [B]ible story tells of a prostitute who ‘lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses,’ who ‘longed for the lewdness of your youth, when … [her] bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled,’” citing Ezekiel 23:20-21. This prophetic parable — not narrative, as the term “Bible story” implies — is not about a literal prostitute at all, but about how God considers idolatry to be spiritual adultery. The purpose of the graphic language in this chapter is not to arouse — as with obscene materials — but to disgust (Ezekiel 23:18) and to judge (Ezekiel 23:36ff).
Would I hand this chapter to a 10-year-old, and say, “start reading here”? Of course not. I wouldn’t recommend a 10-year-old or anyone else start reading the Bible with any part of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Much of it is difficult to understand, and almost all of it is advanced commentary on the laws and histories that come before. But that doesn’t make it obscene.
3. FFRF went on gleefully, “This same story speaks about sex toys: you ‘took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them,’” citing Ezekiel 16:17. Apparently, by “story” the FFRF was referring to the entire book of Ezekiel, which is not a “story” in any ordinary sense of the word. The previous general comments about Ezekiel apply here, too.
This chapter contains another prophetic parable rebuking Judah’s idolatry as spiritual adultery. That is the metaphorical sense in which Jerusalem “engaged in prostitution” with idols. Paul’s words seem to apply here, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).
4. “Another book of the [B]ible has a character who prays, ‘May her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love,’” continued FFRF, citing Proverbs 5:19. This passage is not prayer — that wouldn’t even make sense of the text — but a father exhorting his son to live wisely. The father instructs him to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). By contrast, he depicts intoxication with “forbidden women” — any woman not his wife — as a death trap (Proverbs 5:20-23). The point of the passage is: marriage is good; wait until marriage to have sex, and then don’t have sex outside of marriage. This might be the first time anyone accused abstinence education of violating obscenity laws.
5. The list continued, “In yet another [B]ible story, a future husband purchases a wife by killing 200 of her fathers’ enemies, mutilating their corpses, and bringing back their foreskins as a dowry,” citing 1 Samuel 18:27. I’m not even sure what the point of this example is. Is FFRF offended that in near eastern cultures men had to provide a dowry? Or are they offended that Israel enjoyed a covenant of circumcision with the Lord, which set them apart from the surrounding nations? Set in its biblical context, David’s actions here were righteous because he was destroying the enemies of the Lord, the cursed inhabitants of the land of Canaan — a curse declared centuries earlier on the son of peeping Ham (Genesis 9:22-25).
6. “Another sordid and preposterous story that defames incest victims,” FFRF alleged, “recounts the exploits of two daughters who, having just witnessed a genocide and the murder of their mother by a pyromaniacal god, supposedly got their father drunk and seduced him in order to bear his children,” citing Genesis 19, specifically verses 30-38. Here FFRF accuses the Bible of breaking the ninth commandment against bearing false witness because they simply can’t believe anyone would do what the text describes. But that only underscores the Bible’s historical reliability, in that it honestly portrays human wickedness, even the unimaginable parts. If Moses’s account were false, surely the Moabites and Ammonites would have produced evidence to disprove such a disgraceful slander of their ancestry.
As to the other claim, this is undoubtedly a sordid story. But it’s not as sordid as when the whole city of Sodom tried to gang-rape — a.k.a. sodomize — two travelers earlier in the same chapter (Genesis 19:4-11). The only outrage the FFRF can muster for that episode is against the God who judged them. That is, of course the point of the chapter; God “rescued righteous Lot” but made Sodom and Gomorrah “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6-7). Does this chapter tempt anyone to imitate the ungodly behavior of Lot’s daughters?
7. FFRF was only halfway finished, “Yet another book describes sperm, intercourse, menstruation, homosexuality, bestiality, adultery and whores.” This, of course, refers to the book of Leviticus, the book of the law devoted to the holiness of God’s people. Leviticus spells out in great detail the things that can make a person physically unclean — temporarily unable to approach God’s presence — including bodily fluids. It also spells out the things that make a person morally unclean — in violation of God’s moral law — including all forms of sexual immorality. These are entirely appropriate topics in a book of moral and religious law.
8. “Another [book] depicts a holy man impaling a woman through her belly and describes in loving detail how to steal and rape virgins as war booty,” added FFRF. This selective presentation of the facts omits crucial details. In Numbers 25:1-9, a man of Israel was committing both sexual and spiritual adultery, cheating on his wife in front of her and cheating on his God in front of him. After Moses authorized the death penalty for these crimes, an officer of God’s law “went after the man of Israel … and pierced both of them.”
The second part of their charge doesn’t correspond to anywhere in Numbers, but they might be referring to when Israel defeats the Moabites/Midianites who had seduced them into sexually immoral idolatry in Numbers 25. There, the women responsible for leading Israel into sin are killed, but the innocent are spared (Numbers 31:15-18). The point here is again to guard the purity and holiness of Israel from the idolatry of surrounding nations.
FFRF erred in assuming that the Israelite army raped female captives, according to the practice of other ancient near eastern powers or, more recently, Hamas. Israel’s warriors had to be clean and holy (Numbers 31:19, Joshua 3:5) because God was in their midst. This included abstaining from sex (1 Samuel 21:5) according to the very Levitical laws FFRF just criticized (Leviticus 15:18). The only explicit regulations the Pentateuch contains concerning female captives of war (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) protected them from rape; the Israelite soldier had to marry the woman — which was only legal if she consented by renouncing her pagan idols (Deuteronomy 7:3-4) — and free her from future slavery.
9. “Yet another tale,” continued FFRF, “tells how a woman has her hand cut off for touching a man’s penis,” citing Deuteronomy 25:11-12. Again, this is case law, not a “tale,” and the topic is an appropriate subject for law to address. The case demonstrates that, when someone violates God’s law, “your eye shall have no pity,” even if there are extenuating circumstances. Keeping God’s law, especially regarding privacy, decency, and monogamy, is serious business.
10. FFRF was nearly finished. “In other passages, women’s skirts are lifted over their face so their nakedness and shame can be exposed to all,” they said, citing Nahum 3:5. Here, the “woman” in question is actually the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire. The acts of disgrace and shame here prophesied are entirely metaphorical, referring to the siege and destruction of the city. The cruel Assyrians so thoroughly deserved this judgment that no one would even feel sorry for them (Nahum 3:7).
11. Finally, FFRF concluded, “Another tale describes a man touching a woman’s ‘hole of the door’ and how her ‘bowels were moved for him,’” citing Song of Songs 5:4. This time, the genre — “song” — is in the title of the book; there’s no excuse for calling it a “tale.” First, this book, the only one in the Bible devoted to romantic love is not necessarily as graphic as FFRF makes out. The chapter in question describes how the woman dreamed her beloved was outside in the street, knocking at her door, but when she went out to check, he wasn’t there. In the English Standard Version, the verse reads less suggestively, “My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me.”
It is true that Song of Songs contains poetic descriptions of husband and wife enjoying marital intimacy — to the point that some ancient Jews and Christians “recommended that a young man not read the Song of Songs until he was either married or age 30.” Yet the book itself thrice adjures readers, “that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).
The evidence FFRF marshals simply fails to prove their bold assertion that the Bible promotes a “pornographic view of sex and women, lewdness, depravity[,] and sexual violence.” Nor do passages that regular readers of the Bible would expect to see in such a list appear in FFRF’s complaint, such as David and Bathsheba, Judah’s or Amnon’s incest, or the abuse and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine.
The simple truth is that no passage in the Bible, if read and interpreted correctly, would tempt, incite, or provoke anyone to sexual immorality of any kind (James 1:13). Quite the opposite, as the psalmist says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. … I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9, 11). Instead of denigrating women, the Bible elevates the dignity of both sexes, of marriage, and of every human being in ways that were counter-cultural to its first readers and remain counter-cultural today.
Sadly, the FFRF overlooks this truth because they aren’t actually interested in what the Bible has to say. The anti-theist group is only interested in discrediting the book in which is written, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). This is evident from their frequent mischaracterization of Bible passages (such as describing Proverbs 5 as a prayer, or describing prophecy, poetry, or law as a “story” or “tale”). The least they could do is treat it the same as any other work of ancient literature, which means respecting the genre and authorial intent, and interpreting it accordingly.
“It just goes to show the hate they have for the Bible, and for people of faith,” Chino Valley School Board President Sonja Shaw told The Washington Stand. “I got emails before the policy passed saying, ‘Ms. Shaw, if you pass this, we’re going after the Bible.’”
Even in the letter, FFRF outright admits their request was fundamentally cynical and unserious. “We oppose the concept of banning books from school libraries,” they wrote. “However, so long as the District is choosing to remove books containing sexual content, the [B]ible may not be given special treatment and must be removed too.” FFRF was trying to make a similar point to Nebraska Senator Megan Hunt (D), who took issue with a bill that would ban the presence of children at drag shows and filed an amendment that would ban the presence of children at church camps instead.
The easiest response to FFRF’s attempt to equate the Bible to sexually obscene content in school libraries is that the Bible is an ancient work of considerable literary value. In fact, Chino High School Principal John Miller, who received the resident’s complaint, explained that it is “core instructional material” for a “Bible as/in History and Literature … elective meeting the requirements for the University of California and Cal State University admissions.”
But the FFRF had prepared a counter-response: “The ‘inappropriate’ sections of the majority of books targeted by groups like ‘Moms for Liberty’ are typically minor parts of books that have literary value.” If “literary value” means “presenting the intellectual case for sexual perversion,” they might have a point. Shaw recounted how books read publicly at school board meetings contained material so obscene that people in the room were visibly cringing or covering their ears. “As a parent and board member, protecting children from explicit content is my duty,” she said. “Claims of ‘book banning’ misrepresent what we are safeguarding children from, and only sickos that want sexually explicit material in the hands of children spread that narrative.”
FFRF’s counter-response also made another unforced error in referencing Moms for Liberty, because that group has no say in the complaint process set forth by the Chino Valley School Board — a process FFRF did not follow.
“They didn’t even read the policy, because the policy is very clear,” Shaw protested. According to the multi-step, multiple-month process, a complainant must “ensure the library material is in the school or classroom library,” then contact the principal and cite the author, title, and page number(s) containing obscene material. If the principal agrees, the book goes to the superintendent, and if he agrees it goes to the school board (the complainant can appeal at each level).
Shaw explained that the superintendent has provided principals with supplemental training about how to identify obscenity — which doesn’t just mean that a book mentions sex. “If it says something about sex, that’s not obscene in nature,” she said.
However, “the removal of sexually explicit material is crucial, prioritizing the well-being of our students,” Shaw insisted. “Sexually explicit material is non-negotiable.”
“They can spin a narrative to hide what they are doing,” Shaw concluded, but “this is not a religious fight. It has and will always be what is appropriate for children. This is a moral battle, and it is our job to protect children. This is common sense. We are protecting children.” Shaw pointed out that, while evangelical Christians make a convenient target for leftist barbs, she regularly works alongside “people of no faith, people of other faiths, who believe the same thing I do” about protecting children.
In any event, the anti-Christian campaign to remove the Bible from the library at Chino High School will go nowhere, since Principal Miller reported the Bible is not on the library’s shelves.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.