“Good morning, class. Please take out your Bibles. Today we’ll be studying Deuteronomy 27. Now, can anyone tell me where Mt. Ebal is located?”
No, it’s not a scene from Adventures in Odyssey. It’s a conversation that could be taking place right now in public schools across the state, thanks to H.B. 1287.
The bill is an amendment to the Texas Education Code that requires public school districts to include elective courses on “religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament – and New Testament, and its impact on history and literature.”
The bill was signed into law by Governor Perry in 2007, but the parts applicable to school districts – the sections requiring the courses – did not take effect until the 2009-10 school year.
Obviously, the bill specifically says teachers must teach the class in a way that is religiously neutral and in line with the First Amendment ban on the establishment of religion. Teachers assigned to teach the class must attend training on the proper way to teach a Bible course. But, like so many state and federal laws, the government doesn’t provide the materials or funding to make sure teachers receive the training. This has led many schools to unintentionally – to give them the benefit of the doubt – employ teachers who take advantage of the situation and try to proselytize their captive audience right there in their blue plastic chairs.
As a clear-headed, forward-thinking Christian college student, my concern is not that the Bible is being taught in schools. The Texas legislature’s rationale for it is spot-on. A good portion of the literature, art, music and history taught in public schools across the country references the Bible in some way or another. Imagine trying to read Paradise Lost with no knowledge of the biblical myth of Satan’s fall from heaven. Even Stephen Colbert makes references to the Judeo-Christian tradition. I agree: an understanding of the Bible as literature helps round out a student’s education.
The bone I’d like to pick is the choice of the Bible as the official elective literature topic. Supporters would argue that the bill allows schools to offer “an elective course based on the books of a religion other than Christianity,” but unlike the Bible, those religious books are not required by law.
What gives, Texas?
The Qu’ran, although not as influential in the American tradition, has arguably had as significant an impact on world history and literature as the Bible, and is becoming increasingly more important as the U.S. attempts to strengthen its ties with the Middle East. Followers of other major world religions could say the same of their sacred texts. So, where are they in this picture?
Because of its controversial nature, this law will most likely end up in front of the Supreme Court. Until then, parents and students of all faiths have to deal with it. The bill has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the relationship between Christians and people of other faiths, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. A law like this gives Christians the power and the responsibility to use this as an opportunity for civil dialogue among people of all faiths, even in the face of extreme criticism.
Just remember, dialogue goes both ways.