Recently Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) signed into law HB 128, which allows public schools to offer a Bible class as an elective. What could possibly go wrong? Here at Americans United, we have two main concerns.
First, successfully teaching about the Bible without accidently slipping into teaching the Bible is very difficult. The state acknowledges as much, requiring the Board of Education to design regulations that govern these classes.
Second, public schools should be welcoming for all Kentuckians—especially children—regardless of their religion or belief. By only offering courses on the “Hebrew Scriptures” and “New Testament” a subtle but important message is sent: these religious texts are worthy of study in a way that others are not.
The Bible must be taught in a nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.
To be clear, it is possible and in some cases appropriate to teach about religion in public schools. When studying about the Ancient Greeks, learning about their beliefs and Greek mythology is important. However, when teaching about religions practiced today, things get trickier. The Bible must be taught in a nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of biblical materials, not include the teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible, not teach the Bible as a true and literal historic record, and should expose students to critical perspectives on the Bible and a diversity of biblical interpretations. That is a tall order for even the most highly trained and careful teachers.
At a time when much of America still struggles to treat non-Christian religious groups, whether they be Muslim, Sikh, Jewish or something else, as truly American, there is a better way. Rather than teaching courses only on one particular set of religious texts, schools could offer comparative religion elective courses which simultaneously encourage broader learning and reduces the risk than the curriculum or teacher effectively endorses Christianity or a certain view or denomination of it.
With HB 128, a bill designed to encourage instruction just the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, it’s easy to see how things could go wrong. AU wrote to Gov. Bevin and urged him to veto this bill and we will continue to be vigilant to as it now goes into effect.