July 21, 2008 | 3:54 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I’m a bit late to this story:
Elective Bible courses in Texas high schools received the blessing of the State Board of Education on Friday, but local school officials will have to figure out how to design those classes so they don’t violate religious-freedom protections.
Board members approved the new class, which will be in some high schools this fall, even though officials are awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to offer it.
The board adopted general guidelines for the course on a 10-5 vote, disregarding the advice of several members of the House Public Education Committee who urged approval of more specific requirements to head off the possibility of constitutional violations and lawsuits.
Critics say their concern is not so much that a Bible course is being offered at a public school—I took two, from different religious perspectives, at UCLA—but that the statute is vague and leaves too much discretion to individual schools:
Mark Chancey, associate professor in religious studies at Southern Methodist University, has studied Bible classes already offered in about 25 districts for the Texas Freedom Network.
The study found most of the courses were explicitly devotional with almost exclusively Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives.
It also found that most were taught by teachers with no academic training in biblical, religious or theological studies and who were not familiar with the issues of separation of church and state.
“Some classes promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices,” Chancey said. “This is all well documented, and the board knows it.”
With the proper guidelines, it really seems like a Bible course could be taught without constitutional concerns. I don’t recall anyone protesting Professor Rosenbaum’s Bible as literature course; I do remember one of my friends trying to climb out a 20-foot-high window because of boredom.
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