Religion creep

Kentucky’s so-called “Bible literacy” courses in public schools appear to have already wandered outside the boundaries of the Constitution.

Or so says the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, but that is not the most shocking revelation.

What astounds is that lawmakers and the governor created a law that allows schools to teach the Bible in classrooms — but the state Department of Education has failed to make any rules or guidelines for doing so.

Perhaps all the instructors aren’t zealots, but the boundary is too easily crossed by instructors and students who use the Bible as religious material, rather than teaching it as historical document or piece of literature.

Based on open-records requests to 173 school districts, the ACLU of Kentucky found that schools in several counties were teaching religious life lessons and making use of online Sunday school lessons and worksheets. These courses were not being taught in ways that are academic or scholarly.

“Any sort of Bible literacy class has to be in line with the Constitution. History shows us that is likely not to be the case in Kentucky public schools,” Amber Duke, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said.

The courses have become platforms for devotional teaching and proselytizing to vulnerable young people, infringing upon their rights to be educated free of pressures to make personal choices in public places or have their personal choices, which may differ be disrespected or questioned.

There is good reason to be literate of these stories from religious texts such as the Bible, especially as we are increasingly part of a fully global society. We should know the stories of other people. We should be well versed in understanding how these mythologies affect cultures and inform the political climates around us. However, the use of public funds to push religious agendas is out of step.

The outrage is not isolated to the ACLU alone.

Highland Baptist Church Rev. Joe Phelps said of the Bible literacy courses, “I have committed my career to applying the teachings of the Bible to everyday life, and as a teacher of the Bible, I am usually glad to hear of others faithfully exploring the sacred text. But, teaching the Bible in a public school is not the appropriate or natural context for such faith exploration”

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“Public schools should carry no religious preference. Therefore, schools are not an appropriate context for anything other than the most superficial survey of the history of the Bible, which misses the point of the Bible entirely. The Bible is a book of faith; it should be taught and read and prayed in our homes and churches, not our public schools”

That Bevin and his flunkies chose to pass this bill and allow it to be implemented in the classroom without proper protections for our students is proof of their recklessness with the education of our children and the rights of all citizens in the state. Their behavior and lack of rigor illustrates clearly why it is dangerous for America to continue allowing religion to be mixed into public policy.

Religion has its place in the personal lives of folks who choose to be religious, but for those of us who do not, we should not be made to wade through any policy created under the lens of the religious with public dollars.

If Kentucky can’t be more responsible in presenting these materials in ways that do not promote the personal views of the instructors or students, then these courses need to be eliminated from the public school curriculum. Students who are interested in learning about the Bible can explore it at any Christian church or take a course when they enter university.

It has no place in public grade schools.

If it is going to be taught, then someone needs to be watching.

“We also included that we think there needs to be someone that’s designated in the school districts that is going to monitor these classes to make sure they are in line with the law,” Duke said.

While I agree with Duke, I feel ultimately that the courses are best handled as a personal choice outside of public schools. If the instructors think using Sunday school lessons is OK, perhaps then the text is best left to Sunday schools to instruct there.

This law is, otherwise, nothing more than an attempt by evangelists to insert themselves and their religious beliefs in lives and places where they are not welcome.

About the Author

Religion creep

Erica Rucker is a professional freelance content and copywriter who also teaches English at IU Southeast. In addition to LEO, her work has appeared in The Ptolemaic Terrascope, The Guide, Foxy Digitalis, Insider Louisville and Norton Healthcare’s Get Healthy magazine. You can follow Erica on Twitter, but beware of honesty, occasional outrage and nerdy live-tweeting.

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