Force-Feeding Obscenity to Our Youth

Do public school officials have the right to force students to read materials that they or their parents deem to be morally offensive?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

Right-thinking people respect that venerable document known as The Constitution of the United States and rejoice in the good that, for the most part, has resulted in its wake.

In recent years, however, there has been considerable interpretative diversity relative to the meaning of the Amendments attached to it.

The First Amendment reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Interpretations of this section of the Bill of Rights have grown radically broader across the years as judges have become more “legislative” in their roles. This is hardly questionable.

For example, courts have shielded the vilest forms of broadcast profanity by declaring First Amendment protection for the obscene. Blatant pornographic filth (even that involving children) is sheltered by a nonsensical interpretation of the “freedom of the press” rationale.

But thus far, at least, even the most irrational interpretation of the First Amendment has not advocated that it should be a requirement that one must be forced to listen to vulgarity, view lewd graphics, or read sewer literature.

A Case of “You Shall Read My Filth”

In one southern city high school, students in an English class were required to read two controversial volumes laced with profanity some parents judged to contain sexually obscene material. A Christian girl (and her parents) vigorously and courageously objected to her instructor’s demand. This conflict ignited a firestorm of controversy within the community.

Subsequently, and commendably, the reading requirement was rescinded due to the local board’s action. But certain teachers at the school were infuriated, and so, via a local newspaper, they lashed out against those who supported the protesting student.

Several teachers and a newspaper opinion columnist suggested that the controversial language in these books was no more obscene than specific biblical texts. Cited were such examples as Noah’s debauchery, the shame of Sodom and Gomorrah, David’s affair with Bathsheba, and Herod’s conflict with John the Baptist.

The newspaper writer conceded that the sexually explicit passages in the controversial books would not be permitted in his newspaper. But, he contended, neither would some texts from the Scriptures. The argument thus was this: if one objects to particular popular, sexually graphic literary efforts, consistency ought to demand that the Bible should come under similar criticism.

We want to offer some observations focusing on the real issues in this type of heated exchange.

Who Is in Control—Parents or Teachers?

First, the issue is not over what is “obscene” and what is “not obscene.” There will always be disagreement over that. Even reasonable people may, to some degree, have differences about such matters. Christian people most assuredly do not believe that the Bible is obscene.

The actual “hot button” item is this: Does a local school system (administrators or teachers) have the right to force students to read material that either they or their parents deem morally objectionable? Is the school system the servant of the community or vice versa? Does the American home surrender its autonomy to educational administrators and teachers?

When I was a youngster, Bible reading was a routine exercise in my English classes each morning as the school day began. Liberals now vigorously contend that “there must be a wall of separation between church and state!” But it all depends, it seems, on whose “ox” is being “gored.”

Is the Bible lurid?

Second, the biblical examples cited in response to the objections of Christian parents fail to meet the standard of logical parallelism.

The following observations are worthy of serious reflection.

Historical accounts, not fictional adventures

The biblical narratives reflect actual historical situations. They were not composed to exploit sexual situations or to titillate young readers. These narratives were incorporated into the holy text so that we might learn from the negative examples (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11) — which lessons, quite obviously, many today have never learned.

In the Scriptures, immoral conduct is condemned, not condoned. A failure to recognize this distinction is a demonstration of moral obtuseness.

Delicate sensitivity

When the Bible refers to sexual matters in the context of a historical narrative, it does so with
extraordinary sensitivity.

Moses records that “Adam knew Eve his wife” (Gen. 4:1). Professor H. C. Leupold observes that the writer expressed his idea with “significant delicacy and a very proper euphemism” (188).

Of course, delicacy and polite euphemisms are mostly foreign to the raunchy mob whose sensitivities have been dulled by a sex-obsessed literary and entertainment industry that traffics in human weakness.

Even the record of David’s adulterous affair is described discretely. “He lay with her,” says the sacred writer (2 Sam. 11:4). One can only imagine (though he shouldn’t) what J. D. Salinger could do with this episode!

And then there is Matthew’s description of Herod’s birthday celebration:

“[T]he daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod” (Mt. 14:6).

Regardless of what happened on that occasion, there is absolutely nothing in Matthew’s depiction that is, in the slightest degree, obscene. It is incredible that some folks, who profess to be relatively educated in the English language, cannot discern the difference between the Gospel of Matthew and something on the order of a Playboy essay!

Is the Bible salacious?

Finally, if the Bible is that salacious, as the critics of Christian morality allege, how is it that the “porn” shops do not stock it? And why do the promoters of smut disdain and rail upon the sacred volume so? Is this not telling?

It is to be expected that crass secularists would promote sexually explicit literature — and even hawk it to our youth. Most distressing is that some professing a relationship with Jesus Christ should climb on the licentious bandwagon with them.

  • Leupold, H. C. 1978. Exposition of Genesis. Ed. I. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker