April 2010 Church & State | People & Events

Legislators in Oklahoma and Kentucky have advanced bills designed to establish public school courses on the Bible.

In Oklahoma, the state Senate voted 38-4 in favor of SB 1338, a measure that would allow local school districts to offer elective courses about the Bible. Although backers insisted that the classes will be neutral on theological questions, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has expressed concerns over the proposal.

The legislation states that schools must use a curriculum published by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). The group, based in Greensboro, N.C., has a fundamentalist bent and promotes “Christian nation” views.

A federal court has declared portions of the NCBCPS curriculum unconstitutional, and scholars have scored it for being simplistic and slanted toward a fundamentalist perspective.

In February, AU State Legislative Counsel Dena Sher wrote to lawmakers in Oklahoma, advising them to make certain the legislation respects church-state separation.

“The bill should require that the Board of Education design a curriculum for this course that does not compel that a specific translation of the Bible be used in the course,” Sher wrote. “The bill should also mandate that the course reflect all federal guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of Oklahoma’s public school students. A course should not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or perspective.”

The letter was also signed by AU’s Oklahoma Chapter President Mike Fuller and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott, president of AU’s Norman Chapter and a member of the AU Board of Trustees.

The Bible bill now moves to the Oklahoma House. Americans United continues to monitor developments and seek improvements in the legislation.

In Kentucky, a measure that calls on the state Board of Education to establish guidelines for an elective course on the Bible easily passed the state Senate, 37-1 in late February.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that there was little discussion, and now the bill moves to the House.

SB 142 would require the board to draw up guidelines for an elective course on the Bible’s influence on “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.” It mandates that the course maintain “religious neutrality” and respect “the diverse religious views of students.” 

Sen. David Boswell, an Owensboro Democrat, sponsored the measure.

“The Bible is the most influential book ever written,” Boswell said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat from Lexington, cast the sole no vote. Stein, a former member of the AU National Advisory Council, said she has concerns about the measure’s constitutionality.

“Public schools in Kentucky can, and already do, teach comparative religion,” Stein said.