|Just another high school elective – like shop or pottery, drama or driver’s ed. Just another book. Just another course. At least, that’s what the sponsors of Senate Bill 142 would have us think.
The bill suggests that schools can offer a social studies course in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Kentucky Department of Education will have to come up with course guidelines. Since Kentucky’s proposed law is modeled on a Texas statute, there will presumably be Texas curriculum to follow. The course will focus on the history and literary style and structure of the Good Book.
As a Sunday school teacher, a Christian and a former educator, I believe that Senate Bill 142 is a terrible idea for a multitude of reasons.
First, to me, as a Christian, the Bible is not just any book. It’s not Life on the Mississippi or Silas Marner or Catcher in the Rye. It is a sacred book. It is THE sacred book of my religion. To turn it into a survey course like any other survey course lowers its value to that of any other lit book that students struggle with, are bored by, then never open again. The Bible deserves better than that. It deserves the attention of those who want to read it – not just for a grade on a transcript.
To give teaching a Bible survey course more than a dry historical grounding or a parsing of sentence structure is to violate both the Kentucky and US Constitutions. Teaching a public school course that advocates a religion belief is a violation of separation of church and state. If passed, Senate Bill 142 begs for a challenge in the courts. How much will a challenge cost Kentucky taxpayers for the state to defend its action? There are multiple ways to spend state money that comport with biblical teachings. Few involve legal arguments.
Choosing the right teacher for a bible survey class and staying within state and federal law will be a challenge. Local ministers have the theological background. Teachers with grounding in history and literature have the educational background. When a teacher is chosen, it will become the job of the school assure that diverse student views will be accommodated. Failing to do so will create litigation between parents and schools. Again, there are better ways to expend school funds.
Children need religious education. They need parental guidance and modeling. They need support of faith communities. If parents want their children educated in the Bible, they should want them fed the cream of biblical instruction. Senate Bill 142 waters the Bible down to skim milk.
Legislators cannot seem to come up with a workable budget. They cannot seem to address the issues of poverty, education, health, environment and economic development that plague our state. They file hundreds of bills that have little or no chance of getting a hearing in committee, much less getting passed into law. They know this better than any lay person.
This bill screams that it is a cynical attempt to curry favor with the majority of conservative Christians in Kentucky who want religious education for their children, but who, for whatever reason, trust the public schools to provide it. The Democratic sponsors stuck their fingers up in the air and felt the wind blowing from the right side of world and tossed this bill into the hopper.
The senators who voted for this bill established their conservative bonafides. Only Senator Kathy Stein of Lexington had the courage to vote no when the SB 142 came up on the floor of the Senate.
Now the bill goes to the House. Legislators who vote for this bill will do so either because they do not understand the ramifications if it is passed. Some may truly believe that Kentucky’s public schools should teach the religion of their choice. Others will cross their fingers behind their backs so that the lie they are telling – that they believe this bill is a good idea–won’t really be a lie.