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House Passage of Committee's Bible Class Bill Is a Victory for Religious Freedom in Texas

House Wisely Rejects Efforts to Strip Safeguards from Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2007

The Texas House today rejected irresponsible efforts to strip critical safeguards for religious freedom from a bill on public school classes about the Bible. The House voted overwhelmingly to give the bill preliminary approval and send it to Third Reading.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said the House’s action on House Bill 1287 gives the Bible and religious freedom the respect they deserve.

“Public schools are not Sunday schools, and most people get nervous when government gets too involved in religion,” Miller said. “The safeguards in this bill protect the right of families and clergy, not the government, to tell our schoolchildren what to believe about the Bible. We hope the Senate now shows the same respect for religious freedom that House members showed today.”

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, authored H.B. 1287, which would have required every public high school to offer classes about the Bible beginning in September of this year. The Texas Freedom Network joined with organizations like the Christian Life Commission, the Anti-Defamation League and the Texas Conference of Churches to insist that safeguards for religious freedom be added to the bill. Last month the House Public Education Committee agreed unanimously to those safeguards, including:
- measures on teacher training and qualifications,
- requirements for curriculum standards and an actual textbook (rather than using the Bible as the textbook),
- stronger protections for the religious freedom of students and their families, and
- allowing local school officials to decide whether their districts will offer courses about the Bible, based on the guidelines in the bill, beginning in the fall of 2009

Today Rep. Chisum proposed an amendment that would have replaced the committee version of the bill with one that lacked all of those safeguards. Rep. Chisum’s version of the bill was backed by groups such as the American Family Association, the Free Market Foundation (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family), and Heritage Alliance (formerly known as FreePAC). Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and other committee members opposed that amendment. Then House members defeated that amendment on a vote of 79-59.

A 2006 study for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund by Dr. Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, identified 25 public high schools already offering such courses in Texas. (The report is available at http://www.tfn.org/religiousfreedom/biblecurriculum/.) Many of the courses suffer from serious problems, including a failure to meet even minimal standards for teacher qualifications and academic rigor. More seriously, many end up being courses about the religious views of the teachers, undermining the religious freedom of the students and their families.

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The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who advance a mainstream agenda supporting public education, religious freedom and individual liberties.

 

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