Written by Don Byrd
New laws in Kentucky and Florida about religion in public schools have residents in both states bracing for unintended consequences as they went into effect July 1.
In Florida, a law designed to support the religious expression of students purports to expand religious liberties. In reality, it may only reiterate protections students already enjoy, and in a way that could lead to confusion. The Tampa Bay Times reports the new law “has some educators worried.”
Brandon Haught, a Volusia County high school science teacher who runs the Florida Citizens for Science blog, had big concerns.
“There are teachers who do teach science but who don’t believe in evolution,” Haught said. “This could embolden them to say, ‘The law is on my side’ ” and start covering topics such as creationism or intelligent design in their classes.
He noted, too, that the new law allows students to express their viewpoints in their assignments, and that they will be graded in accordance with the standards. But he wondered whether a grade could be considered discrimination if the teacher challenges the student’s views and suggests revisions.
School officials in Florida seem to be preparing for a rush of “unintended consequences” once the school year gets underway.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, a new law requiring the state Board of Education to establish elective courses on the Bible likewise went into effect with uncertain outcomes. The state’s “BIble Literacy Law” was not intended to promote Christianity, advocates insist, but some worry about the opportunity for improper religious teaching.
NBC News reports:
“Right now the language of the bill is very vague and the Kentucky Department of Education has not yet put together a curriculum,” Amber Duke of the Kentucky ACLU said Wednesday. “The concern, though, is that you could have a curriculum that is constitutional and could be delivered in a manner that is not constitutional.”
“This is an opportunity for teachers to preach religion in the classroom,” the [Kentucky Secular Society] said. “If this course is really for literary purposes, it should include other mythologies and literatures that have impacted our culture as well.”
It remains to be seen whether religious liberty disputes will result from either of these new laws, but clearly officials and advocates are concerned about how these well-meaning provisions may be implemented and interpreted. A new school year is right around the corner.