Law & Courts

Schools’ Bible Courses ‘Taught Wrong,’ Report Says

By John Gehring — January 19, 2000 3 min read

All 14 public school districts in Florida that offer courses on the Bible are violating the U.S. Constitution by teaching from a religious perspective, a report released last week by the People For the American Way Foundation contends.


“The Good Book Taught Wrong: ‘Bible History’ Classes in Florida’s Public Schools” is available online at
(requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader) or by calling (800) 326-7329.

In its 54-page report, “The Good Book Taught Wrong: ‘Bible History’ Classes in Florida’s Public Schools,” the Washington-based liberal watchdog group uses the courses’ instructional materials and exams to make its case.

“There is a right way and a wrong way to teach the Bible,” said Lisa Versaci, the Florida director of the People For the American Way Foundation. “There is the legal issue, but more importantly the education issue. You have a group of kids being left out. There is proselytizing going on in the public schools.”

The foundation, which sued the Lee County school board in Fort Myers, Fla., last year over two proposed Bible courses, highlights five common ways it says the 14 districts are violating the law. According to the report, the Bible courses are framed and taught from Christian, usually Protestant, perspectives; the Bible is used as a history textbook; students are assumed to be Christian; the Bible is used to promote Christian faith formation and religious values; and Sunday school and other religious-training exercises are used to indoctrinate students in Bible content.

A Bible history class taught at Clay High School, for example, includes an exam question that PFAW officials regard as inappropriate for public school instruction. The true-or-false question asked students whether the first three of the Ten Commandments deal with “our relationship with God.”

“The teacher here is assuming ‘we’ have a relationship with God,” the report says, “bringing a religious perspective to the course, and also putting a student who does not believe in God in a very difficult position in terms of answering this question as ‘true’ or ‘false.’ ”

David Owens, the superintendent of the 28,000-student district and a former Clay High School principal, acknowledged the sensitive nature of teaching about the Bible in public schools, but disagreed with the conclusions drawn by the report.

“We don’t teach the Bible from a religious viewpoint or from a particular belief,” he said. “We have atheists in class, people from different faiths. This is an elective class where they choose to be here. I am very comfortable with how this is taught.”

Changes Sought

Work on the report began after People For the American Way Foundation lawyers, a Florida law firm, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Lee County school board in federal court over the board’s decision to adopt two Bible history courses that some residents viewed as promoting religion. The two sides reached a settlement when the board agreed to drop a controversial New Testament curriculum and to change the name of the remaining course from “Bible History” to “Introduction to the Bible.”

Foundation officials said last week that they hoped the report would spur changes in the Florida districts’ courses so that further legal action can be avoided.

Along with the report, PFAW officials sent a letter to Florida education officials requesting that they withdraw approval of the disputed Bible courses in their present form.

Karen Chandler, the communications director for the Florida Department of Education, said the state legislature allows objective instruction about religion and the Bible in public schools. “We have no authority over the districts’ curriculum or how it is taught,” she said. “Our responsibility is to have an objective course description. This is an issue this group may want to address at the local or legislative level.”

PFAW officials also sent letters to the superintendents of the 14 Florida districts asking them to make changes in the courses, as well as copies of “The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide,” recently published by the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center and the National Bible Association.

The publication, endorsed by a broad coalition of groups including the Christian Legal Society, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National School Boards Association, offers school leaders guidance on how to teach about the Bible in public schools without violating the Constitution. (“Groups Endorse Guidelines On Using the Bible in Instruction,” Nov. 17, 1999.)

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as Schools’ Bible Courses ‘Taught Wrong,’ Report Says


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Appeals Court Weighs Idaho Law Barring Transgender Female Students From Girls' Sports
The three-judge federal court panel reviews a lower-court ruling that blocked the controversial statute and said it was likely unconstitutional.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Weigh When School Board Censure of a Member Violates the First Amendment
The justices will decide an issue that has become more salient as a few board members rant inappropriately on social media.
5 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.