Arizona to allow bible classes in public schools.

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona just signed a bill into law that would allow the teaching of bible courses as an elective in public schools.

According to HB 2563, “A school district or charter school may offer an elective course pertaining to how the Bible has influenced western culture for pupils in grades nine through twelve.”

Personally, I think more students should study the bible.  I think that it creates atheists.

However, I’m unconvinced that honest study is what this bill was built to pursue.  Just like religious people will lie in court when they say “In God We Trust” has only historic significance and none for religion, so too, I believe, are they willing to lie here.

Which is why this bit is worrisome.

“A teacher who instructs a course offered under this section in its appropriate historical context and in good faith shall be immune from civil liability and disciplinary action,” reads the bill.

That’s pretty vague, since “appropriate historical context and in good faith” doesn’t really lock down what would constitute those things.  Left up to many of the teachers who will want to teach this class to acquire an air of factual credibility for their religious falsehoods, that wording could be severely bent if a student records the teacher being bad and calls a lawyer.

If you’re a student at any public school that has one of these classes, or if you have a student at such a school, consider looking up the laws for recording people in that state.  In some states you can do it without their knowledge.  But even if you must declare that you’re recording someone, simply tell the teacher you’re recording the lectures.  And, if you feel the teacher is proselytizing or teaching that Christianity is true, contact the FFRF or myself.

Taught well, these classes could be a very beneficial educational tool.  But I don’t, for a minute, believe that most of them will be taught well.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Matt Prorok

    If it were done well, I’d say this is a step in the right direction. Often, it’s the fact that kids get no exposure to religion other than what occurs at home that allows indoctrination into their parents’ religion to occur. I’d prefer a “World Religions” class rather than a Bible class, but it’s a start.

    If, that is, it’s done well. You’re absolutely right that it’s highly unlikely that such a class will indeed be taught in a neutral manner.

    • Ted Seeber

      Boy, two Atheists I agree with in the same post. Can we also get them to teach the Platform Sutra in Math Class? GEB would be the book I nominate for the textbook!

      • Ubi Dubium

        GEB? In high school? For the average high schooler, that book might explode their brain, if they actually managed to understand it!

  • onamission5

    I am really wary of any public school course being taught on one religious text alone. There is far too much risk of it turning into a government run sunday school class, glossing over the bad parts and emphasizing only the jesus lurves you with miracles shit. Now, a Texts of Major World Religions course, that I could get behind, because the teacher would presumeably have to be well versed in many religious views and that lends less risk to the class becoming Christ-centric, how to build a theocracy while claiming persecution 101.

  • Jaimie

    I don’t think it will go well. With all the infighting over interpretations about “Truth” it will end up being a nightmare. A slant in any direction that even gives a slight advantage of one denomination over another will cause Christian parents to see red. Ditto with using the Bible as a cultural textbook as opposed to a sacred text. I can see the protests already.

  • Makoto

    Appropriate historical context? Let’s see.. The Crusades. Witch hunting, in Salem (you know, make it hit home because it’s in the USA) and around the world. Galileo. Alan Turing. The “Ground Zero” “Mosque”. Hiding pedophile priests by moving them around. And pretty much NO verification of biblical accounts, other than a few location names. DNA evidence to show spreads of genes and when we have bottlenecks showing few numbers of shared ancestors.

    Sure, give them historical context. That ought to help them figure out that the bible isn’t a true story in the least.

  • John Horstman

    Like everyone so far, I think teaching the Christian Bible in its actual proper historical context (a very influential collection of myths) in good faith is a great idea! Sadly, I share the suspicion that this is not how it will be interpreted. I’m also unclear on the need for a specific law, especially one protecting a teacher from liability, unless the intent is to abuse the law. There’s nothing presently forbidding teaching the Christian Bible (well, a given one, there are so many versions) as a historical document, and any case brought against a teacher doing so without legal protection would be (should be) summarily dismissed. Even so, if the teacher is breaking Constitutional law, they have to know that state laws aren’t going to provide any effective protection. The entire thing reeks of bad-faith legislation intended to enable out-and-out lying to allow for using public schools as Christian propaganda machines.

    • Ted Seeber

      Can we include “a very influential collection of myths, written by different people over a nearly 5000 year period of human history, during the first 3000 years writing didn’t even exist yet?”

      • Kaoru Negisa

        If that were true, I’m sure we could, but considering we have examples of written language going back to 3200 BCE in Mesopotamia and it’s a mostly pointless statement, I suggest we leave it at “very influential collection of myths.”

  • TGAP Dad

    I’m excited about this idea! Let’s give an actual history of “the” bible. We can start with the oral histories and letters of the apostles, which were later written and copied and recopied hundreds of times. We can talk about duplication errors and possible deliberate alterations by the scribes. From there we can move on to the plethora of different books and the ecumenical councils which decided which were “genuine” and would be included in official doctrine, and which would not. We can move on to King James and his authorized version of the bible, and it’s own special interpretations.

    From there, it would really add historical and social context if we showed all of histories horrors adhere the perpetrators cited the bible for justification. From slavery, stonings, witch hunts, inquisitions, crusades, the KKK, anti-civil rights, anti-gay, etc.

    Let’s give “the” bible PLENTY of exposure. This could be fun!

    • Ted Seeber

      Don’t forget special emphasis on 1500 to 1800, after the invention of the printing press, when spreading the Word of God became profitable (and even more profitable when you left those 15 Catholick books out- because nobody ever reads them anyway!)

  • Ted Seeber

    “Personally, I think more students should study the bible. I think that it creates atheists.”

    My goodness, something we agree on! I’d say at least 1/3rd of atheists are created by Bible Worshiping Cults. The kind who seem to think that the Bible was given to King James from a cloud, whole and complete, The Word of God (never mind that Jesus fellow the real Word of God comes printed from the Gideons).

    Atheists are just fundamentalists with enough brains to notice that God Created The World Twice.

    • ACN

      How clever. How original. We all see what you did there.

  • Brad

    It was a long time ago, but I can remember a section of study in a public high school literature class called “Biblical Allusions”.

    I was, of course, shocked and appalled that we Christians were being so persecuted by our holy book being called an illusion.

    Until I looked up the word allusion. :P

  • John Eberhard

    “A 2006 study by Chancey, funded by the Texas Freedom Network, which surveyed every Texas public high school’s Bible classes, showed what can go wrong.
    Of the 25 districts offering the classes during the 2005-06 academic year, the study found, all but three had minimal academic value and were not taught objectively, teachers were largely unqualified, and some classes were taught by clergy.
    “The vast majority of Texas Bible courses, despite their titles, do not teach about the Bible in the context of a history or literature class,” according to the study.
    “Instead, the courses are explicitly devotional in nature and reflect an almost exclusively Christian perspective of the Bible. They assume that students are Christians, that Christian theological claims are true and that the Bible itself is divinely inspired – all of which are inappropriate in a public school classroom.”

    • onamission5

      That is *exactly* what I would be worried about. School sponsored bible study, essentially. Yipes.

    • Ubi Dubium

      In Northern Virginia, I had a high school class that actually did the “bible as literature” the right way. As part of an English class, where the teacher said “The stories and characters from the bible are going to be showing up symbolically in many of the other books you read in your high school career. So no matter what your religion is, for cultural literacy you need to know these stories.” I don’t for a minute think that this is what Arizona has in mind with this bill.