Bills Requiring Public Schools to Teach the Bible Are Flooding State Legislatures – Some Are Becoming Law

 
 
 
In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that teaching the Bible in public schools was unconstitutional.

56 years later right wing religious extremists are still trying to find ways to get the Bible taught in public schools.

And now they're succeeding.

According to the civil rights organization Americans United, there is a "coordinated attempt by the Religious Right to enshrine Christian nationalism in our schools, in our communities and in our government," and teaching the Bible is a part of that attempt.

Also part of that attempt: President Donald Trump.

Conservative lawmakers across the country are embracing this attempt, sponsoring bills that mandate the creation of required or elective courses in public schools to teach the Bible, or finding other means to inject religion – especially the Christian religion – into taxpayer-funded curriculums.

Since January of this year alone there have been bills mandating the creation of Bible study or instruction bills in at least 14 states, including Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, West Virginia, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, West Virginia, Texas, Indiana, Washington, and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma's bill is listed as "emergency" legislation.

Some of the bills, like Georgia's, have passed and been signed in to law as recently as Monday. Some have failed or died in committee. There are still many Bible instruction bills active and awaiting hearings, votes, and governors' signatures.

Some states have filed multiple bills with the same or similar intent: get the Bible – and religion – into as many classrooms as possible.

While some of the bills direct the creation of "elective" Bible study classes, other states, like Texas, make clear Bible instruction would be required. Some legislation is careful to mask the Bible classes as instruction in history, others are more overt in their direction and intention.

Alabama's SB 14 allows "elective courses" of Bible study, but overtly opens the door to displaying the Bible and other "artifacts, monuments, symbols, and texts related to the study of the Bible and religious history if displaying these items is appropriate to the overall educational purpose of the course."

That bill will be reviewed by the Alabama House Education Policy Committee Wednesday afternoon.

Also up for review on Wednesday is the Missouri Senate's Concurrent Resolution 13, which, among other objectives, would, "Require that all world literature courses include a three-week session on wisdom literature from the Bible, as has been done for three thousand years."

The resolution cleverly claims that "forty studies have documented a correlation between improved school grades for children and the teaching of the biblical character of love, integrity, compassion, and self-discipline."

Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist documents how Republican state Senator Ed Emery, sponsor of Missouri's resolution, is "full of it," and the Senator's similar claims about another Bible bill he sponsored were disproven. He also reports that Sen. Emery is the "head of the Missouri Prayer Caucus Network, which is affiliated with the group known for promoting the Christian Right’s Project Blitz. Their goal is to shove Christianity into our public institutions (including public schools)."

West Virginia's SB 234 would "require all schools provide an elective course on Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible or New Testament of the Bible," while HB 2742 would "make available elective courses of instruction in all schools located within this state on the history of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible."

New York Assembly Bill 6315 would "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy."

The text is almost exactly the same Virginia's SB 1502, which died in committee, and almost the same as Georgia's SB 83, which GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed in to law Monday.

Texas' SB 2090 makes "Bible instruction" part of "the required English language arts curriculum for public school students."

Mississippi's HB 1403 died in committee but had it passed would "require school districts to offer a secular program of education to high school students which includes elective courses relating to religion, Hebrew scriptures and the Bible."

North Dakota's SB 2136 failed to pass, but would have offered elective Bible instruction and allowed portions of those classes to replace social studies requirements for graduation.

Image by Paul Keller via Flickr and a CC license

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