Protecting Religious Freedom
Public School Bible Courses
Recommendations to School Districts
As Abington v. Schempp declared in 1963, the Bible is definitely worthy of study in public schools for its literary and historic qualities. The challenge is how to teach about it in an objective, nonsectarian manner that neither encourages nor disparages religious beliefs. Materials submitted by Texas schools offering Bible courses suggest that most have not yet figured out how to respond to that challenge. Almost all courses assume and promote (intentionally or not) particular religious views. The following brief recommendations are based upon this report’s findings and are offered with the hope that they might help school districts create courses that are both academically and legally appropriate.
1. School districts should adhere to guidelines proposed by the First Amendment Center The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide. These guidelines have been endorsed by 20 religious and educational groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and other Christian, Jewish and Islamic organizations.
2. The process by which local school boards decide to offer Bible courses and choose the curricula for those courses should be open and transparent and invite the full participation of parents and other citizens from the community.
3. School districts should make sure that teachers have the appropriate academic background in biblical and religious studies and sufficient training on the legal issues involving the teaching of religion-related courses in public schools. If no such teacher is available within a school’s district’s staff, then the district should not offer the course until it finds a way to provide sufficient professional development to prepare a teacher for the special challenges of teaching a Bible course. Such training should emphasize, among other things, the ability to recognize sectarian materials and ideas.
4. Classes should avoid relying primarily on sectarian resources for student readings, teacher preparation, videos, and other course components. Course materials surveyed for this study suggest that the religious claims of such resources are often presented to students as statements of fact.
5. School officials should regularly monitor the content of Bible courses to ensure that they are academically and legally appropriate. Special training might be required for administrators to help them recognize inappropriate sectarian elements.