Written by Don Byrd
A “Bible Literacy” law enacted last year by the Kentucky legislature required the State Board of Education to establish elective courses on the Bible, despite questions about whether sufficient oversight would protect the separation of church and state. Now, an ACLU survey suggests that courses created under the law are being used to promote religion, instead of merely teaching about religion.
Some teachers apparently use sectarian literature to supplement class material; one encouraged students to “build close relationships with other Christians, so that you may help one another through tough times.” Others require students to memorize Bible verses, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
ACLU sent a letter to Kentucky’s public school districts, reminding officials of the constitutional requirements of such a class and requesting information about Bible classes being taught. The responses they received were not encouraging, according to their blog post earlier this week:
As we explained in our letter, any public school course addressing the Bible must be carefully designed to avoid proselytizing or any suggestion that a religious message is being promoted by the school. It must be taught from an academic, neutral perspective. Teachers must be properly trained in how to teach the Bible from a scholarly perspective, and they must understand the legal limitations of teaching the Bible or religion courses in public schools.
Furthermore, schools or the state should monitor these courses to ensure that they are properly implemented. Based on the responses to a public-records request sent by the ACLU of Kentucky to every school district in the state, however, many Kentucky schools that currently offer Bible courses simply flout these constitutional restrictions.
Classes about religion and building understanding about different world religions can be an important part of high school education. Many advocates have effectively made the case for why improving religious literacy is important for all Americans. However, public schools should not be in the business of promoting religion, or indoctrinating students in theology.
For more on ways that religion *can* be used properly in public schools, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools.