Bible Courses in Texas Remain Troublesome

Bible Courses in Texas Remain Troublesome March 31, 2008

The Texas state legislature voted last year to encourage public schools to teach Bible courses, but they left it to the State Board of Education to create guidelines for those courses. The SBOE is working on them now, but apparently aren’t doing much:

But Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network said the board is proposing to adopt the same loose curriculum standards that preceded the legislation and that do not specifically address religion or the Bible.

Districts need specific guidance on how to teach the Bible while protecting religious freedoms of students and avoiding lawsuits, Miller said.

We know that if they adopt the NCBCPS curriculum, they’re going to find themselves in court. That curriculum is blatantly unconstitutional and clearly violates the text of the Texas legislation, which says that the curriculum must teach about the Bible in a neutral manner without proselytizing. But if the SBOE guidelines are broad enough to allow the adoption of such curricula, you know some school districts are going to do so.

Mark Chancey, who did the Texas Freedom Network report on the NCBCPS curriculum, has also studied various curricula developed by local schools around the state of Texas and says most of them are clearly unconstitutional:

Research by Southern Methodist University professor Mark Chancey found that 22 out of 25 Bible courses from Texas public schools in the 2005-2006 school year resembled courses that federal courts had ruled to be in violation of the First Amendment.

“Most Texas courses are textbook examples of the unconstitutional promotion of one religion above others through the public schools,” Chancey said.

Chancey said it requires the “wisdom of Solomon” to balance the constitutional concerns, diverse religious sensitivities and academic quality. Teachers need specific standards, not the general framework that is up for consideration.

“Without such direction, they are likely to create problematic courses that would not withstand court scrutiny,” he wrote in a letter to the board.

As the ID advocates are doing in Dover, the SBOE in Texas is actually urging schools to do things that will land them in court and, more importantly, land them in court in cases they are highly unlikely to win. And I love this argument from the other side:

Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director for the Free Market Foundation, disagreed. He said there is no need to create a different curriculum.

“We think it is a great idea for the board to continue to be doing what they’ve been doing for years,” Saenz said.

The existing standards give districts flexibility and would not require major changes or new burdens, he said.

And talk of lawsuits is meant only to intimidate and frighten school districts about creating the Bible courses, Saenz said.

The legal arm of the Free Market Foundation defended Odessa’s Ector County school district in West Texas when it was sued last year over its Bible course curriculum. That suit was settled earlier this month when the district agreed to change it.

They defended the school board and caved in because they knew they were going to lose in court. If they really believed they had a winning argument in court in defense of those curricula, they would be prepping for a trial right now. Talk about blowing smoke.

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