PROTECTING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Public School Bible Courses
Bible courses can be an effective way to teach public school students about the importance of religion in history and literature. However, Bible courses in public schools must be taught in an academic, non-devotional manner that refrains from promoting or disparaging religion or promoting one particular faith perspective over all others. Many courses fail this most basic test and jeopardize the religious freedom of students. Below are original reports from the TFN Education Fund that reveal how challenging it is to create courses that are both legally and ethically appropriate as well as academically sound.
An independent review raises serious concerns about a new curriculum that promoters hope will combat what they see as ignorance about the Bible among public school students. Museum of the Bible, a nonprofit created by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green, is publishing the curriculum, The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact. Mark Chancey, a religious studies scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, reviewed a preliminary version of the curriculum in May 2014 for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. Chancey’s review finds that the curriculum represents a classic example of preaching religious beliefs in the guise of promoting religious literacy in public schools.
Reading, Writing & Religion II (2013)
Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 documents a widespread failure to implement key guidelines passed by the Legislature in 2007 to improve the academic quality and legal status of Bible courses in Texas public schools.
This report by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, reveals that at least 57 school districts and three charter schools in the state taught courses about the Bible in 2011-12. That's more than double the 25 school districts teaching such courses in the 2006-06 school year. In 2007 the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1287, which included guidelines designed to improve the quality of such courses while protecting the religious freedom of students and their families.The new report shows that state agencies and many local school districts have largely ignored those guidelines.
The report is based on information obtained from requests to school districts under the Texas Public Information Act. Those requests asked for copies of instructional materials, records related to teacher training and other relevant documents regarding Bible courses taught in the districts' schools.
Key findings in the report:
- Many Bible course teachers lack the proper training required by the Legislature. Moreover, curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education are far too broad to help school districts create academically sound and legally appropriate courses. Consequently, many courses are not academically rigorous and include numerous errors, distortions and other problems.
- Many Bible courses reflect the religious beliefs of the teachers and sectarian instructional materials they use in their classrooms. In every course in which religious bias is present, instruction reflects a Protestant -- most often a conservative Protestant -- perspective, including a literal interpretation of the Bible.
- Many courses teach students to interpret the Bible and even Judaism through a distinctly Christian lens. Anti-Jewish bias -- sometimes intentional but often not -- is not uncommon.
- A number of courses and their instructional materials incorporate pseudo-scholarship, including claims that the Bible provides scientific proof of a 6,000-year-old Earth (young Earth creationism) and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles. At least one district's Bible course includes materials suggesting that the origins of racial diversity among humans today can be traced back to a curse placed on Noah's son in the biblical story of the flood. Such claims have long been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
- Despite the state's failure to implement HB 1287 effectively, a number of school districts did succeed in offering Bible courses that largely comply with legal and constitutional requirements, are academically serious and avoid many of the serious problems noted in most other districts. These successful courses can be found in urban, suburban and rural districts.
Reading, Writing & Religion:
The Bible and Public Schools: