Written by Don Byrd
A Florida House member has proposed legislation that would require school districts to offer religion-based electives. Rep. Kimberly Daniels introduced House Bill 195, which “requir[es] each school district to offer specified courses relating to religion, Hebrew Scriptures, and the Bible.” The bill does include a provision that calls for the classes to maintain religious neutrality, but in a class devoted to the Bible that may be easier said than done.
The Orlando Sentinel’s columnist Shannon Green quotes a local Baptist minister’s hesitation about this idea:
“Public school is not the safest place to be teaching religious thought,” said Danny de Armas, who is the senior associate pastor at First Baptist Orlando.
“At the same time, I think broad instruction into different faiths and comparative religion classes can be healthy and important. I don’t want to assign motive to the representative and what she’s doing but I just think it’s murky water to get into it.”
Murky indeed.That is to take nothing away from the legitimate and important educational value of including study about various religions in the high school curriculum. Even the study of specific religious texts can be an appropriate segment of a literature course, for example. But offering a class that focuses exclusively on a particular religious text would seem fraught with constitutional peril in practice.
For more, it’s worth watching the Religious Freedom Day conversation hosted by the Sentinel discussing the issue.