A legislator here in Arkansas just introduced a bill that would allow public high schools to teach the bible as an elective class.
In a state like Arkansas (or Alabama, or Mississippi), I think it’s highly likely that his is an attempt to give religious teachers an outlet to preach to a captive audience. We know this is one of the goals of fundamentalist Christians. However, I do support an academic (and factually-sound) education of the bible. So how could such bills be modified to make sure they produce classes in which the latter takes place?
Perhaps a bill that allows elective religion courses in which the bible, the Quran, and other holy books are studied. I suspect if it were mandatory for other religions to be taught that the fundamentalists’ interest in these kids’ “academic exploration of the bible” would dry up real quick.
Or perhaps severe penalties written into the bill for anyone caught treating such a class like a pulpit? But then, what would such penalties look like? Suspension from their job? Termination from their job? Or would the lingering threat of an ACLU or FFRF lawsuit be enough? I’m very doubtful that it would be. When I was with the SSA, the threat of a lawsuit was certainly not enough to keep teachers from blatantly discriminating against their atheist students and often was no impediment to the administrators, who would often aid those teachers. However, if you have a whole class of students in a religion class, the odds go up that a student is going to record what the teachers say and then hand those legal bodies an open-and-shut case.
But then, would fundamentalist teachers (like the kind often found here in the South) care? I mean, if the school gets sued over a teacher abusing their position then it’s not the teacher losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit destined to be lost, it’s the school (and subsequently the students in the school). And as we’ve seen in towns where similar lawsuits have been brought, such as Ahlquist v. Cranston, very often fundamentalists care more about getting religion into public schools than they care about the consequences to the students for their efforts.
And therein lies the issue with using children as pawns in the culture war, as deeply believing Christians so frequently are eager to do. We “elitist” liberals place an enormous value on education. Yet we only hear the conservative lament the possible loss of money earmarked for education, not when they began their attempt to circumvent or to outright break the law, but when staring down a judge who is about to tell them to stop trying to break the law. All the while feeling as though they are being persecuted, of course. Just look at all the believers who weren’t content with the school getting out with a bill of only a couple hundred thousand dollars in Cranston.
The fundies are willing to hold effective education for ransom, and I’m not sure how to get around that. It may very well be that schools will have to keep paying for lost lawsuits while the teachers responsible for spitting on the law out of deference to their faith aren’t out a dime.