Bible in Schools
Many reasonable people who point out that religion has had a significant effect on society and is therefore worthwhile of study, even in public schools. Generally, because of the impact Christianty has had in American culture, they suggest Bible courses.
I don't have qualms with the argument itself -- the Supreme Court has recognized that while teaching religion is unconstitutional, teaching about religion is acceptable. Knowing about the world includes knowing about religion and how it affects us. There is even aesthetic value, as many authors and artists reference religious beliefs or scripture. There are serious reasons to worry considerably about the implementation of courses, however.
The ACLU recently filed Moreno v. Ector County School Board, a complaint by eight parents against a Texas district which initiated a 10th-grade Bible study elective course. In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim the curriculum of the course teaches a particular theological point of view. It should be noted that none are necessarily atheists, and at least one is specifically a Presbyterian minister. Generally, one might think suing on a viewpoint taught might be difficult from an evidentiary perspective. One recent New Jersey case would have gone uncorroborated if the student had not been plucky enough to audiotape the lectures (for which, incidentally, the school chastised him).
As all complaints, a statement of facts is included. These only tell the plaintiff's side, and have not yet been supported by evidence. However, certain assertions are almost certainly true, simply because verification would be simple:
- The King James version (which the complaint says is a Protestant version) is used in the course.
- Roman Catholic beliefs on communion are described in course text as "warped" and brought on by "mysticism"
- Scriptures are memorized and at least one assignment asks students to discuss their significance to their own lives
- A supplementary video uses many unconfirmed quotations of the founding fathers to argue a religious foundation for the government, without presenting contradictory quotations
A true-false exam presents a list of questions. The answers to all of the below, quoted verbatim, are "true":
- Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday
- During his prayer, Jesus sweated drops of blood
- Judas was paid to show the Jewish officials where Jesus was
- When Jesus dies, the sun goes black
- Jesus ascended to heaven on the Mount of Olives
Perhaps those who are better educated about the Bible can tell me whether those represent specific religious viewpoints, but I would be quite surprised if all the Biblical faiths (including varieties of Christianity, Judaism, and Catholicism) all subscribed to these.Many other claims and examples in the complaint will probably be disputed by the school district, including a claim that the selection of the particular curriculum was rigged in favor of a less objective curriculum. The claims, however, are believable. The complaint suggests that while two curricula were evaluated, only one was eventually presented to the Board. That the other may have been more objective is implied in an email from the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Shannon Baker, in which she writes: "YES, WE ARE USING NCBCPS :) :) :)! HA! Take that you dang heathens!"
What does this tell us about religion classes in schools, and curriculum selection in general? Well, it may be fraught with corruption and personal interests. Baker's email suggests she's not only not trying to remain objective, but that she feels her religion requires her to advance a certain religious viewpoint. It's difficult to teach a Bible class objectively even when the materials and instructor both genuinely share that purpose. Given that people and processes are rarely so pure, Bible classes are dangerous enough that the decision of most schools to simply not offer them is a wise one.