Americans United has long warned that all sorts of church-state problems can arise when public schools try to teach Bible courses, and now a report by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFN) has confirmed our fears.
Back in 2007, the Texas legislature passed a law encouraging Bible classes. The measure established guidelines for the courses including that teachers must be properly trained and that a standard curriculum must be developed so as to avoid proselytizing and religious favoritism.
The problem is things haven’t gone as planned.
TFN said the state failed to appropriate any money for teacher training and the state board of education has yet to adopt specific curriculum standards. Instead, the board has used generic guidelines for the Bible courses pulled from preexisting standards created for a range of public school electives.
As a result, Bible courses in Texas public schools are rife with religious bias, evangelism and even racism.
The TFN report, which was authored by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found:
• two school districts have taught the long-discredited idea that modern racial diversity can be traced back to Noah’s sons;
• most courses are taught from a conservative Protestant perspective;
• anti-Jewish bias is common;
• many courses claim the Bible is literally true;
• many courses teach that Earth is 6,000 years old;
• some teachers claim that the United States is a Christian nation; and
• the classes are frequently far from academically rigorous (many courses rely on little more than memorization of Bible verses and one district uses Hanna-Barbera cartoons for a high school class.)
These problems are serious, and suggest that the overwhelming majority of Bible courses in Texas public schools are not only constitutionally problematic, they also fail to provide much useful education, if any.
This is precisely why Americans United urges lawmakers to be extremely wary of Bible study courses in public schools.
If a curriculum teaches the Bible objectively as literature, if it is taught by an instructor who is properly trained and if it doesn’t inject any religious bias, that sort of course passes constitutional muster. But as these classes in Texas show, it’s very rare for a state to develop and enforce such a system.
Public schools can, of course, teach about religion at appropriate places in history, art and literature. But legislators would be wise to avoid promotion of Bible classes that create a whole slew of needless problems.