Texas law requires schools to teach about religious literature, but must districts actually offer a Bible 101 class?
No, said state Attorney General Greg Abbott in a recent opinion on whether the 2007 law mandates a separate elective course in religious literature (including the Bible), or whether districts can include the subject within existing classes.
The law requires the teaching of “religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament, and its impact on history and literature.”
Rules effective Sept. 1 set standards for Bible-study courses that could be offered without violating First Amendment strictures. But districts were waiting for guidance on whether separate classes were optional.
“Now schools won’t be required to maneuver through a legal minefield without a map,” Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, said in a statement. The group argues against what it considers religious interference in the public sector.
While Mr. Abbott ruled last month that Texas districts don’t have to offer separate classes, he also stated, “Such discretion does not ... mean that school districts or charter schools are not required to comply with the curriculum requirements.”
Barbara Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Boards, said it’s unclear how many districts will choose to offer a separate, elective course.
Groups in favor of including religion in public school instruction, including one organization that pushed for the 2007 law, welcomed the attorney general’s opinion.
“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,” Jonathan Saenz, the director of legislative affairs for the Plano, Texas-based Free Market Foundation, said in a news release.
A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 2008 edition of Education Week