Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bible Courses To Be Offered in Texas Public Schools

The Dallas Morning News reported August 29 on a statement released by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott clarifying a Bible study bill approved by the Texas state legislature last year. Abbott's statement said the bill does require some instruction on the Christian Bible and its historical impact as a piece of literature, but that more intensive elective Bible courses will only be offered if the local school boards vote for them. From the News article:

"The legislation 'authorizes but does not require school districts and charter schools to offer elective courses on the Hebrew Scriptures and its impact, or on the New Testament and its impact,' the attorney general said."

The statement, released August 28, has apparently cleared up some confusion regarding among Texas lawmakers, teachers and education advocates.

"Lawmakers and various citizen groups had been waiting for the opinion to clear up confusion over what the 2007 law required. Most legislators, including the Republican chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said the Bible course was optional for school districts, but some of the original sponsors of the bill said it was mandatory."

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a Texas group advocating religious liberties and the separation of church and state, expressed agreement with the bill's clarification. The article quotes her as saying, "Local school boards can now breathe a sigh of relief." She went on to say:

'The State Board of Education threw them under a bus last month by refusing to adopt the clear, specific standards schools need to give the Bible the respect it deserves and help them stay out of court. Now schools won't be required to maneuver through a legal minefield without a map.'"

The article also quotes Jonanthan Saenz of the Texas Free Market Foundation, whose mission statement reads:

"To protect freedoms and strengthen families throughout Texas by impacting our legislature, media, grassroots, and courts with the truth. To do this we are guided by the principles, which limit government and promote Judeo-Christian values."

Saenz expressed support for the bill and Abbott's clarification. The Foundation was apparently in support of a mandatory Bible course. Saenz went on to say:

"'For too long, Texas school districts have been threatened and oppressed by enemies of academic freedom for simply daring to offer instruction on the Bible,' said Jonathan Saenz of the foundation."

However, an article posted on the website of the San Antonio Express-News claims a bit of confusion still exists. From the Express story:

Some legislative leaders insisted that schools 'may' offer the course if enough students request it, but others contended that schools are obligated to offer a class if at least 15 students want it. Lawmakers approved the Bible bill last year."

Whatever the exact truth may be, it appears this bill and the subsequent "clarification" have to the potential to cause quite a stir within the Texas educational community. If the bill does indeed require "some" course material on the Bible as a piece of literature, then the holy books of other religions, such as the Qu'ran, ought to be at least mentioned. Granted, the Bible has had the heaviest influence on American literature and culture of the all the major religions' holy books, but a comparative study could and should be offered. The biggest problem I could see arising is what version of the Bible school boards would decide to teach. The viewpoint of the Texas Education Agency toward evolution also make me wary of how they would handle such curricula.

However, if the bill merely offers the Bible as an elective course, I see absolutely no problem with it. No matter what stance one may have on religious faith, the Christian Bible has had a tremendous impact on American culture. Understanding its history can only help students who chose to take the class. But, the curricula used in such elective courses would need to be carefully monitored so that the religious beliefs of the teachers or school board members aren't injected.

Whatever the case, this is definitely a matter that needs to be handled delicately, so as not to incite costly lawsuits from either the secular or religious ends Texas' belief spectrum. As with all other similar education issues, the minds of the children in Texas schools need to be put first. Is the state up to the challenge? Only time will tell.

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1 comment:

paprgl said...

You don't know TEA's view toward evolution.