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Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Bible Study in Texas Public Schools

You can file this story under the heading “Here We Go Again.” Odessa Texas, is a little known, old oil town in Central, West Texas, with a population of about ninety thousands folks, over forty percent of which are Hispanic and whites hold a just a slight majority of the population. At this time of year as we enter the dog days of summer, there can be no doubt the number one topic of conversation was the heat. That was until the Odessa school board decided unanimously to start holding bible classes in their public schools. Now even folks in New York are hearing about Odessa Texas, and no matter which side of the argument you are on, the sleepy town will soon become well known throughout the country and especially throughout the nation’s court system.
Odessa has apparently voted to follow a course outline provided by a group calling themselves “National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools” (NCBCPS). The group claims to have bible programs in 312 school districts in 37 states. It really doesn’t matter how many other systems this group has convinced to carry their “curriculum,” they appear to be really proud of landing the Odessa school system, because they’re making press releases and all of the assorted hoopla associated with a big media event.
With all of the publicity they have been trying to generate, there can no doubt there will be a negative reaction from those who do not desire the public schools to thwart their parental rights to determine what religious education their children should receive. Additionally, there are those in the community who do not believe it is the job of the public schools to utilize tax monies to pay for such training. Those local citizens who oppose this training, with their own respective organizations, be it the American Civil Liberties Union or their own local groups, will take some sort of legal actionss against the school board’s attempts to force religious indoctrination in through the backdoor of the Odessa schools. The net result of this new bible class will be a lot of noise and expense, and less hard earned tax money spent on education and a lot more money being spent on attorney fees and court filings.
There are tens of thousands of synagogues, churches, and temples across this country representing every stripe and type of religion. Each one of them offers teachings to their memberships, adult and child alike, according to their faith, by those best qualified and selected to teach them. The Supreme Court of the United States has determined the US Constitution does not allow the government to endorse a specific religion. Clearly, teaching Christian bible classes in the public schools falls into this prohibition. It is too bad for the children attending the Odessa schools that the school board is more interested in causing controversy and forcing their own religion into the schools, than it is interested in providing a good education in reading, writing, and arithmetic to the kids of Odessa.

And the NeoCons claim they aren't trying to force their white, protestant religious views on everyone else... ph....
Seems to me that this is a good contrast to the Islamic religion being taught in Mosques across America, where the Koran clearly teaches violent intolerance of Christians and Jews and American values to its children.

Christianity teaches acceptance of religion by tolerant means which is what has helped this nation prosper in this world.

Of course the democrats and liberals have not understood any of this as their hatred and selfishness are what controls them.

You just don't get it, do you?
If you read further into the story, you find that the course is offered as an elective, it's not compulsory. There are plenty of public high schools in the U.S. where the Koran is studied. Why is this any different?
In reference to mr. T's claim that "There are plenty of public high schools in the U.S. where the Koran is studied." In an effort to be fair with all readers, I've performed a few on-line searches for any such public schools, and have failed to find any. Ther are of course, numerous private Moslem schools in the US, but that is no different than the thousands of private Christian schools around the country.
If anyone knows of any public high schools that teach the Koran, I'd really appreciate it if they would let us all know.
Thanks, Mike Gaither
The school district of Washington in Missouri has a world religions curriculum that studies Islam extensively. It's also a relatively common subject in colleges, both public and private, religious and secular.
Pace Kakerlakenzüchter, here's the full text of the first amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

How this bears on the actions of the town of Odessa is a matter for further discussion, it seems to me.
Intersting site Mr T, but it is actually the lesson plan from a course entitled "World Religions." This can be determined by navigating to the "Index" page.
A class on the religions of the world can be compared to a year long course engaged in studying the Chirstian bible, but not favorably.
Yes, my original post mentions that it was part of a "world religions" curriculum. As far as a Bible class not comparing favorably to World Religions class, that depends on the criteria for comparison. One would think that there are different criteria for each, as they serve different ends. How does an English literature course compare with a World literature course? Again, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the First Amendment is being infringed here. The people of Odessa should be allowed to make their own curricular decisions. (You're always free to criticize, of course.)
Mr. T, I would think the difference between a World Religions class which teaches the basic premises of all religions, and a course restricted to only the Christian bible, would be self-evident. It is the restriction of the course to one subject that is objectionable.
The study of English Lit v World Lit, is not regulated by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court (the folks we hire to interpret the Constitution) has ruled fairly consistently the government (i.e. public schools) cannot endorse one religion over another. A class teaching the Koran (Quoran) with no other classes teaching the texts of other religions available, would be just as biased and unlawful.
My turn to ask a question. Why, other than to force other peoples children to be subjected to training they may not desire for their children, is it so important to teach Christianity in the public schools? Why this never ending battle to thwart the secularity of the United States? The majority religion in this country is by far Catholicism. Should those of us trying to perserve freedom of religion, just give up and declare the U.S. a Catholic Theocracy?
I apologize for the inconvience I put you through to find this comment line. The new site will have a much better method of threading comments, or I won't use it until it does.
Hi, Mike,

Thanks for the continuing conversation. I appreciate the courtesy and the civil tone in this thread. That's not a given in the blogosphere.

RE: the constitutionality of a World Religions course vs. a Bible course. As a matter of law, there is no doubt that public schools may constitutionally teach Bible courses:

"[I]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment." (Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)).

Note that the study of the Bible (apart from a general discussion of religion) is specifically approved here. The Abington precedent has been cited as allowing the Bible to be studied for literary and historic qualities in later Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968 and Stone v. Graham, 1980).

Your assertion that a Bible study course constitutes establishment of religion per se is intriguing. There is much in the existing jurisprudence that I consider not to be based in the text, legislative history, or intent of the Constitution, but even the Court has ruled in these cases that mere teaching of the Bible as literature or history does not in and of itself constitute an establishment of religion. Can you cite a SCOTUS precedent that requires schools to teach the Koran as literature if the Bible is taught as literature? If so, is there a mandate to the Bhagavad Gita be taught as literature/history? What about L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics -- must that be taught as literature/history?

I'll address your questions in another post.
"Why, other than to force other peoples children to be subjected to training they may not desire for their children, is it so important to teach Christianity in the public schools?"
This isn't about advocating Christian belief in public schools. I'm defending the right of the people of Odessa to choose a Bible study curriculum for their children in an elective course. No one is talking about forcing anyone to do anything. As I indicated on my blog, the course in question may be severely flawed, but for Odessa to find a better curriculum, not to invent new rules preventing the study of the Bible in public schools.

"Why this never ending battle to thwart the secularity of the United States?"
This strikes me as a rhetorical question, and makes the issue far too black and white. Without an understanding of the cultural matrix that fostered Western democracy, an American education is incomplete. A key part of that matrix is Christian belief. To give a more specific example, John Locke's ideas in his Second Treatise on Government are not intelligible outside of a Christian context. A student should at least understand where Locke was coming from, regardless of whether the student is himself a Christian. This treatise is the strongly influenced our Declaration of Independence, particularly its assertion that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Any education that omits facts and ideas such as this is incomplete.

Should I ask, "Why this never ending battle to thwart the religiosity of the United States?" I don't think that would be a productive question, do you? It seems to me that the status quo ante was a public square with more visible signs of belief, not a relentlessly secular one.

"Should those of us trying to perserve freedom of religion, just give up and declare the U.S. a Catholic Theocracy?" This, too, is a rhetorical question. No one here is advocating theocracy.
Odd Supreme Court decisions to cite in support of your argument Mr. T, they weren't very friendly to evangelicals. Here is what appears to be the relevant quote from Epperson et al v Arkansas:
"While study of religions and of the Bible from a literary and historic viewpoint, presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, need not collide with the First Amendment's prohibition, the State may not adopt programs or practices in its public schools or colleges which "aid or oppose" any religion. Id., at 225. This prohibition is absolute. It forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition [393 U.S. 97, 107] of theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma."
While "need not" does indeed appear to the open the door to secular biblical study, the bar it imposes is very constritive. So much so when one considers the actual intent of the developers of the curiculum in the original post, the Supremes would have to either overrule themselves (as is possible with the upcoming appointment of our new justice.
Attempts to create bible study classes as "history" or "literary" courses are simply disingenuous. Can the bible be used as a source for a Middle Eastern History class? I suppose some of it might have some relevance to the research involved in developing such a class. The vast majority of biblical stories are heresay and tall tales not relevant from an historical perspective. Should the bible be taught as literature? In a word, no. What other texts are currently being studied as a stand alone example of literary accomplishement? Not even my personal favorite, Tommy Paine's "The Age of Reason" is deserving of as much attention.
My question concerning the development of an American theocracy is not rhetorical, I've listented to way too many christian advocates to believe otherwise.
"The very first act of the new Bush administration was to have a Protestant Evangelist minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, whom he declared to be 'our savior.' Invoking 'the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ' and 'the Holy Spirit,' Billy Graham's son, the man selected by President George W. Bush to bless his presidency, excluded the tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics, and atheists from his blessing by his particularistic and parochial language.
The following is a quote from Alan Dershowitz:
"The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that George W. Bush's America is a Christian nation and that non-Christians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens. In effect, Bush is saying: 'This is our home, and in our home we pray to Jesus as our savior. If you want to be a guest in our home, you must accept the way we pray."
If you do not think fundemental christians want a theocracy, you're simply not listenting.
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