Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has said some problematic things in the past. He’s previously suggested praying the crime away, and now, he’s implying that white supremacist domestic terrorist attacks like the one that recently occurred in Charlottesville, Va., could be prevented if public school students were taught the Bible.

“When you go back a couple hundred years, in most instances, the only textbooks that were actually in our public schools were the Bible,” Bevin told West Virginia radio host Tom Roten on Roten’s morning show. “I mean, that was pretty much it. There may have been a few other augmented materials, but really no books. They didn’t have textbooks. The more we’ve removed any sense of spiritual obligation or moral higher authority … the more we’ve removed things that are biblically taught from society, the more we’ve seen the kind of mayhem that we were just discussing.”

There are many problems with Bevin’s comments. For starters, objective instruction about the Bible or religion generally was not removed from public schools, as he claims. Students can still learn about various religions in a nondevotional manner, as long as there is no attempt to indoctrinate students. (Bevin’s comments are especially troubling given that he recently signed HB 128, a bill that allows public schools in Kentucky to offer a Bible class as an elective.)

Courts have removed compulsory, school-sponsored programs of prayer and Bible reading from public schools. They did this in part because such exercises forced children to take part in religious exercises. Truly objective study about religion remains legal.

Public schools serve everybody and should remain inclusive. Bevin, who declared 2017 the “Year of the Bible” for the second straight year in Kentucky, has been known to be dismissive of religious minorities. His most recent comments suggest that students of other religious and nonreligious groups should be coerced into studying the Bible and base their morality on it, even if they don’t believe in it, which is unconstitutional. 

Bevin's comments are dismissive of systematic racism. 

Bevin’s suggestion that a failure to know the Bible is what’s lacking in the fight to combat bigotry and white supremacy is both ridiculous and dismissive of the systemic racism people of color and ethnic minorities have experienced throughout American history.

His suggestion is also historically inaccurate, since many Christians leading up to the Civil War justified slavery with Bible passages. It’s also tone-deaf because many of the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville were neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and the KKK, who historically advocated for the religious superiority of white Christians only. White supremacists promote an ideology of superiority that excludes religious, racial and ethnic minorities.

What happened in Charlottesville is horrible, and Bevin shouldn’t be using it to promote his theocratic agenda. Public elected officials should focus on representing all of their constituents, religious and non-religious, while being inclusive and non-sectarian. Americans have the constitutional right to believe, or not, as they see fit, and Bevin should recognize that choice is not correlated to crime or white supremacist thought.

AU will continue to promote sound and objective public school education and will continue to fight against religious discrimination. Join us