Tainted Testament: Okla. Legislators Admit Bible Class Bills’ Sectarian Purpose

Russ said teaching the Bible in schools will allow Americans to hold onto their “Christian heritage.” Otherwise, he suggested, Americans will not always be Christians.

In Oklahoma, state legislators seem intent on pushing through legislation that encourages public schools to teach from the Bible.

Two bills are making their way through the House and Senate, and the bills’ proponents have made it clear they intend for this legislation to promote Christianity and undermine church-state separation.

After all, no legislation is necessary for public schools to teach about the Bible. Public schools can already offer Bible courses, so long as the class is taught from an academic perspective and teachers don’t proselytize.

But Rep. Todd Russ (R-Cordell) and Sen. Tom Ivester (D-Elk City) don’t think that is enough.

“This bill allows schools to represent our American heritage from a Christian, biblical perspective without fear for retribution, and I think they should be able to do so,” said Russ. “It wasn’t Hinduism or Buddhism that motivated the move to these shores. It was Christianity and the desire to worship freely.”

Russ said teaching the Bible in schools will allow Americans to hold onto that heritage. Otherwise, he suggested, Americans will not always be Christians.

“The way things are going, we’re not going to have any Protestants left in government,” Russ said yesterday before the House Common Education Committee passed Ivester’s Senate version of the bill.

The Senate version promoted the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), a North Carolina outfit with fundamentalist credentials. A court enjoined a Florida school district from using significant portions of NCBCPS’ materials in its schools because the school board likely had the unconstitutional purpose of promoting religion when it adopted the curriculum. Ultimately, the Florida school district dropped the entire NCBCPS curriculum, as did a Texas school district after it was sued in another case for using NCBCPS materials in 2007.

As it stands now, however, AU’s legislative department believes that the House Common Education Committee deleted the mandate to teach the NCBCPS curriculum yesterday during its hearing on the bill, but the newest version of the bill has not been posted.

The House version of the bill does not specify which curriculum will be used. But at one point, an amendment was proposed to this version of the bill that specified only the “Christian Bible” would be taught.

“The rationale behind the amendment was that I presented the bill to a school superintendent in my district, and he was concerned that the language in the original neutralized the Bible,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Cannaday (D-Porum). “He was concerned that the faith of a young student who had grown up believing the Bible is the wholly inspired word of God would be damaged.”

Though the amendment passed, Ivester and Russ have removed this language from the bills.

Opponents of the legislation are rightfully concerned these measures will prove to be another chance for teachers to proselytize.

“I think that people tend to think, ‘Everyone is just like me,’ and that’s not true,” said Rep. Wallace Collins (D-Norman), one of nine representatives who voted against the House bill. “We are very diverse…. I think that instead of a full-frontal assault [on church-state separation], they’re just nibbling around the edges.”

He’s got that right. These bills aren’t about promoting objective instruction about the Bible – and possibly not even about teaching the Bible in unconstitutional ways – but rather a way to curry favor with voters and play politics with religious liberty. The Founding Fathers made it clear that government may not favor one religious belief over another, and it’s time Ivester and Russ accept that fact.

Americans United’s legislative department is following this legislation and will keep you updated on further developments.