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