March 2019 Church & State Magazine - March 2019

Trump Endorses ‘Bible Literacy’ Classes In U.S. Public Schools

  Rob Boston

President Donald Trump on Jan. 28 issued a tweet endorsing the idea of “Bible literacy” courses in public schools.

Trump was apparently motivated to act after watching “Fox & Friends,” a morning show on the Fox News Channel that, according to some accounts, he views regularly. The show that morning interviewed Aaron McWilliams, a North Dakota state representative who had introduced a Bible literacy bill.

Trump’s tweet read, “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

Bills that would allow or require the study of the Bible in public schools are pending in six states. While often described as Bible literacy bills, the measures are problematic, says Americans United.

AU noted that Texas passed a bill like this in 2009, and the resulting classes offered in many districts have been accused of bias. Six years ago, Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University, surveyed courses in 60 districts around the state. Only 11 districts, Chancey found, were “especially successful in displaying academic rigor and a constitutionally sound” approach. The other 49, he found, “were a mixed bag, some were terrible.”

Chancey singled out 21 districts as offering “especially egregious” instruction. For example, public school students in these courses were taught that “the Bible is written under God’s direction and inspiration,” Christians will at some point be “raptured,” and the Founding Fathers formed our country on the principles of the Holy Bible. (Kentucky passed one of these laws as well and has had similar problems.)

Chancey addressed the issue in a Jan. 30 Washington Post opinion column, stating, “In a pluralistic democracy and an age of globalization, students and citizens need familiarity not only with sacred texts but also with other expressions of religion, and not only with those religions grounded in the Bible but also with the world’s other great traditions. Students also need an understanding that, contrary to Project Blitz, religious freedom means equal respect for the religious and nonreligious alike. This movement may be less politically oriented than the Project Blitz types, but it is active, influential and growing.”

Americans United has pointed out that many of the backers of these bills are advocates of the fallacious “Christian nation” view of American history. Among them is David Barton, a Texas man who makes his living peddling that myth to fundamentalists.

The bills are also being pushed by Project Blitz, a Religious-Right-led effort to swamp state legislators with bills undermining church-state separation. (See “Bracing For The Blitz,” November 2018 Church & State.)

Americans United and its allies are on alert. AU President and CEO Rachel Laser told USA Today, “State legislators should not be fooled that these bills are anything more than part of a scheme to impose Christian beliefs on public schoolchildren.”

Writing on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, Senior Adviser Rob Bos­ton asserted, “Let’s not be misled: Barton, the backers of Project Blitz and other far-right groups behind this new push aren’t interested in truly objective classes about the Bible in public schools. They want classes that indoctrinate children in a specific religious perspective – theirs.”

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