Curriculum

Bible-Literacy Classes Go Beyond Letter of the Law, Argues Kentucky ACLU

By Brenda Iasevoli — January 10, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Some Kentucky public schools are offering Bible-literacy classes that are in violation of the U.S. Constitution, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Last year, Kentucky lawmakers passed House Bill 128, allowing public schools to offer Bible-literacy classes as an elective. Other states, such as Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, have passed laws that support the creation of Bible-study courses, while some others have debated the idea, as Jackie Zubrzycki reports in this blog.

A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed that, while public schools cannot teach devotional practices, they can teach the Bible when it is “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

But the Kentucky ACLU argues in a letter to the state’s department of education that the Bible-literacy courses it has reviewed through an open-records request of all 173 school districts are anything but objective. In the letter, the group’s interim legal director, Amy D. Cubbage, enumerates violations that are “not academic and neutral, but rather present the Christian Bible as the only Biblical text and Christianity as the one correct religion.”

The letter argues that the courses proselytize and even ask students to proselytize. One assignment instructs students who have visited the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center to write to a family member and persuade him or her to visit the center. The writing prompt reads:

“Devote your writings to an item or items of interest in the religious exhibit relating to faith and religious heritage. Discuss why the reader needs to appreciate this.”

Other assignments described in the letter include a worksheet on the Book of Proverbs that asks students, “How are the virtues praised by the Book of Proverbs important character traits for society today?” Students in the same class were encouraged to turn to the Book of Philippians as a way of alleviating anxiety. You can read a full list of assignments from Bible-literacy courses that the ACLU reviewed here.

“Far from encouraging academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value,” the letter reads, “it is clear that the coursework in these ‘Bible Literacy’ classes often resembles Sunday School lessons.” The letter also points out that course assignments often prompt students to do rote memorization, which the ACLU argues is a tactic better suited to religious study than to academic and secular study of the Bible.

In the end, the ACLU argues that religious education is best left to parents and not schools. But the group expressed hope that, in light of legal protections for Bible-literacy classes in public schools, the department of education will develop standards to provide guidance to teachers.

Education department spokeswoman Rebecca Blessing told the Courier Journal that the department is working on statewide academic standards for Bible-literacy classes. “Until these standards are finalized and further guidance is provided by the department, it is up to each public school district to ensure the curriculum used in any classes allowed under HB 128 abides with the letter of the law and the tenets established by constitutional law,” she said.

Image: pixabay.com



Related stories:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty