Proposed Bible curriculum too narrow
Two of the many values and freedoms the people of the United States take pride in are the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Under the First Amendment, Americans are permitted to practice their religion as they choose, whether it is in the privacy of their homes, within a church, individually or as a group.
However, the line between church and state is difficult to draw. Does the government have the right to require public schools to offer biblical courses to high school students?
The Texas Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Rick Perry that would allow Texas high schools to offer a Bible course as an elective. If Perry signs the bill, originally proposed by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Austin, schools would be able to offer what could be considered a survey course of the Bible, incorporating the study of history, art, government and literary style.
According to a KGBT-TV article, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, wanted to amend the bill so that high schools or school districts would be required to offer the course unless fewer than 20 students enrolled in the class.
According to Estes, without a proper education of biblical literature, students have a difficult time understanding the motivation behind the actions of our country’s founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the actions of those very important people were not just motivated by biblical literature or the Bible, but also by freedom, tolerance and – most importantly – equality.
Regardless of the motivation, requiring high schools or school districts to offer biblical courses would violate the religious freedom of those who may not believe in God or a higher being as well as members of other religions. It would be a different if the curriculum of the proposed course surveyed all religions, but because the majority of Americans are Protestant (52 percent, according to the CIA’s Web site), the idea of an "all-inclusive" religious survey class is highly unlikely.
Religious groups and organizations such as the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, an organization that provides the curriculum for biblical courses, have campaigned for years to have biblical courses taught in public schools, regardless of whether it is Constitutionally acceptable.
According to The New York Times, a study done by the non-profit organization Texas Freedom Network found that the curriculum taught by NCBCPS interferes with the family’s freedom to pass on its own religious values. And Mark A. Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found multiple errors within the curriculum, especially where facts, dates, definitions and spellings are concerned.
Private schools, including universities, are well within their right to offer or require students to take religion courses, as they are either privately funded or religiously affiliated. Baylor University, one of the largest Baptist universities in the United States, requires its students to take religion classes. However, the courses are not entirely centered on the Protestant views. Students are more or less looking at the Old and New Testament from a historical perspective and not a purely religious one.
If such a course is to be taught in a public school, though, it must fall within constitutional and First Amendment guidelines. It should be an all-inclusive religious course or offer a look at religion from an academic viewpoint, such as the Bible’s influence on art, government or literature.
Latimer, a creative writing post-baccalaureate student, can be reached via [email protected]