The Mustang, Okla., school district announced two months ago that the Bible curriculum designed by Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green and his merry band of conservative evangelical scholars would not appear in its classrooms.
First Amendment advocates welcomed the news: Expert reviews of the curriculum revealed that it incorporated a conservative Christian bias and taught the Bible as fact, rather than as history or literature. Groups like Americans United threatened legal action if the school district proceeded to offer the elective class, and officials quite reasonably decided not to take the risk.But State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) just can’t let the matter go. He has proposed Senate Bill 48 as a response to the controversy, and if passed, it could allow public schools in the state to offer classes like the one designed by Green. From the text of the bill: “A school district and its employees and agents shall incur no liability as a result of providing an elective course in the objective study of religion or the Bible.”
The key word here is objective, an adjective that does not apply to either the content of the Green’s Bible class, or his motivations for creating it. As I previously reported on this blog, he informed the National Bible Association in 2013 that the class is intended to “show the reliability of this book.”“That’s our goal, so that we can reintroduce this book to this nation. This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” he added. In a later speech, he described the class as “the fourth leg” of his personal ministry ethos, leaving listeners with few illusions about his evangelistic intentions.
Loveless may be unfamiliar with Green’s statements and with the course’s troubling material, but if that’s the case, he hasn’t allowed ignorance to become an obstacle to his legislative agenda. In fact, his bill also declares that Mustang’s decision to adhere to the First Amendment and pull the curriculum constitutes nothing less than “an emergency.”“It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval,” it states.It’s still unclear why he thinks Mustang’s decision to offer or not offer an elective course is “an emergency,” although he did tell the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, “The district projected that there were going to be between 20-30 students interested in the elective. In actuality, 180 students signed up.”“They were extremely disappointed in having the class cancelled,” he said.Those students may be disappointed, but they shouldn’t have been offered the class at all. The class didn’t get pulled simply because it was about the Bible; it got pulled because it taught students that the Bible is true, and that’s a sermon, not a public school lesson.It’s also already legal for public schools to offer truly objective elective courses on the Bible or religion. Thus far, Mustang officials have chosen not to do so, but they’re free to change their minds at any time. Legislation isn’t necessary.And if Loveless’ bill is an attempt to create a loophole for public schools to teach sectarian material, it’s doomed to fail. It’s well-established by the courts that as arms of our secular government, public schools are and must remain religiously neutral. There are plenty of other ways to help students. Proposing unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional bills isn’t among them.