Written by Don Byrd

A bill recently introduced in the Missouri legislature would call on state officials to develop courses in the Old and New Testaments. House Bill 267, like other, similar recent state proposals around the country, authorizes school districts to offer such courses with the purpose of teaching students “knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”

In an editorial opposing what it calls an “unnecessary measure,” the Kansas City Star Editorial Board argues that the courses “appear to promote one religion above all others.”

Missouri schools already have the right to use religious books in literature and history classes as long as they’re not used in a manner that violates the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits government from favoring any religion….

But teaching a class centered only on the Bible in public schools raises new and avoidable constitutional and legal questions. Lawmakers should reject the proposal.

The Baptist Joint Committee is part of a coalition of advocates opposed to the coordinated campaign to push such legislation, calling it an “alarming effort… to harness the power of the government to impose the faith of some onto everyone else, including our public school students.” As Executive Director Amanda Tyler added, “Anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic.”

The growing list of states considering such legislation includes Indiana, Florida, Virginia, and Alabama. Bible courses in West Virginia are the subject of litigation recently revived by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. A proposal in North Dakota was soundly defeated in the state senate.

For more on this topic, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s Religion and Public Schools Resources and their Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools.