Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on the need to protect children from allegedly “graphic, explicit content” in school libraries.
That this hearing even took place is unfortunate. Youngsters aren’t being exposed to material like that in public schools, and the hearing was little more than an opportunity for far-right Republicans to try to excuse the wave of book banning that’s occurring in public schools.
The Bible has not been banned
Making matters worse, near the end of the hearing, U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) hoisted a Bible and claimed it has been banned in schools for the last 60 years.
“Some say that we are here today to talk about so-called book [banning] in K-12 school libraries when [one of] our nation’s most consequential books, banning was done by the Supreme Court in 1963, when officially mandated Bible reading, this book, [was] banned from all of us,” Owens said. “Anything that deals with federal, it’s no longer can see it, can no longer read it. Matter of fact, there some that are listening today, probably think this is totally unconstitutional, that I can even hold it up. Due to the [banning] of this book, generations of Americans today have no knowledge of the tenets upon which this country has been founded – tenets based on the belief that, with God in time, we can truly become a more perfect union.”
That’s a lot of bad information packed into one paragraph.
No coercive religion in public schools
First off, let’s remember what was going on in 1963 when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated mandatory, coercive forms of Bible reading in public schools. In Pennsylvania, where the legal challenge took place, public schools were sponsoring recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and 10 verses from the “Holy Bible” (usually the King James Version) over the loudspeaker every day. Students were compelled to take part.
The high court did not say, and never has said, that truly voluntary forms of religious expression in public schools are unconstitutional. Students can take Bibles or other religious books to school and read them during any free time they may have. They can pray in silent, non-disruptive ways. In many secondary schools, students can form voluntary religious clubs.
Public schools may also teach about religion in an objective manner. They can discuss the role religion has played in history and how it has impacted art, literature and so on.
U.S. Constitution is secular
Owens’ claim that due to the alleged banning of the Bible, Americans “have no knowledge of the tenets upon which this country has been founded” is mere Christian Nationalist mythology. The reason young people don’t learn that America was founded on the Bible is because it isn’t true. Our secular Constitution demolishes that canard.
The job of public schools is to impart secular education, not sponsor religious worship and pressure students to take part.
Americans United’s “Know Your Rights” publications explain all this in user-friendly language. Rep. Owens, please take a look.