Written by Don Byrd
Last week, I posted about claims made by the ACLU that elective Bible classes across the state of Kentucky have been indoctrinating students and promoting Christianity, in apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution. Many of those classes emerged as the result of a relatively new state law requiring school districts to offer a Bible elective. Now, a similar proposal has been introduced in the West Virginia Senate.
Columbus’ ABC6 reports:
[Senate sponsors] said the bill’s purpose is to teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are pre-requisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.
Under the proposed bill, a student “may not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament from that chosen by the county board or school.”
The state Department of Education would include the course standards in the program of students for West Virginia schools, including the teacher qualifications and required professional development.
It also stipulates that the course offered would follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions and perspectives of students in the school.
Religious literacy classes can be important additions to a high school curriculum, but should include important safeguards in place to ensure that the rights of students are not violated. A class solely on the Bible brings with it even more constitutional dangers. In theory, such classes could be taught in a neutral way – about religion and not engaging in religious exercise or promotion. The Kentucky allegations, however, remind us that such a curriculum can easily stray into improper instruction.
Religion and religious indoctrination are best left to our homes and our houses of worship, not our public schools. It’s common and perfectly acceptable to discuss certain religious elements, even biblical influences in a history class, or literature, or art class, alongside other texts and influences. If it must become the focus of a class, however, school officials should institute clear guidelines to safeguard students’ religious liberty rights.
You can read the proposed West Virginia legislation here.
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.