Public Schools: A Battleground for the Religious Right

If you have a child currently enrolled in public school be warned: a heavy dose of religion may accompany his or her studies.

According to Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service, a number of state legislators are now pushing some legislation that would introduce studying the Bible as a choice in their state's public schools, and other legislation that would teach creationism as valid.

Bible courses, offered as elective "literature" classes, are being considered by lawmakers in Arizona and have already been approved in South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Since these classes are not mandatory and are supposed to be taught with religious neutrality, there has not been a great deal of public opposition to them. Some school districts within the states where they are allowed still choose to not offer them at all.

But while the idea of these classes is being sold to us as maintaining the constitutionally required separation of church and state, a closer look reveals the claimed neutrality of these efforts to be more than suspect. The Bible Literacy Project and the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools are two of the main groups pushing for these classes, and their motivations are clearly not neutral.

While the National Council on Bible Curriculum writes on its main web page that their program "is concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students," on another page they declare "the Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years." That goes rather firmly in the face of evidence that the Constitution is based on many Enlightenment Era (mostly non-religious) sources, and that our laws find their real basis in English common law, not any Bible. Disturbingly, the organization claims to have their curriculum implemented in 593 U.S. school districts.

The Bible Literacy Project, which claims their textbook is used in 43 states and in over 500 public schools, also makes a claim of being neutral, saying their course "frames the classroom discussion in constitutionally acceptable ways." But a page with links for "student Bible resources" takes students to places like the American Bible Society, a group that uses the slogan "God's Word Where Needed Most" and has an active Bible Ministry program.

It seems that, for many of those pushing the hardest for placing Christian (usually specifically Protestant) Bible classes in public schools, their public declarations of neutrality are a deception. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop with Bible-as-literature classes. There are also anti-evolution bills being considered in several states, including Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Arkansas, and New Hampshire. These bills would allow such things as "creation science" and "intelligent design." The discriminatory bias rings through particularly well in the New Hampshire bill demanding "evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."

Those pushing the anti-science, pro-Bible agenda are openly aiming to insert their doctrines into the classroom. On top of these efforts, state lawmakers in Pennsylvania recently voted unanimously, 193-0, on a resolution to make 2012 the "Year of the Bible." The resolution calls the Christian Bible the "word of God" and declares there is a national need "to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures."

The religious right clearly has a full catalog of methods being used at the state level to overturn the constitutional guarantee of keeping religion and government separate. For those of us who wish to maintain the unbiased religious freedoms that Thomas Jefferson advocated, each of these attempts at promoting sectarian agendas in the public schools must be defeated.

2/6/2012 5:00:00 AM
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  • Roy Speckhardt
    About Roy Speckhardt
    Roy Speckhardt is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. He is also a board member of the organization providing Humanists leadership training, the Humanist Institute, and an advisory board member of Secular Student Alliance. Follow him at