Tennessee Approves Bible Instruction Guidelines

The Tennessee State Board of Education has required that schools follow curriculum standards in teaching high school Bible courses.

Americans United urged Tennessee lawmakers in 2008 to include these standards as part of legislation authorizing public schools to provide courses on the “nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible.” AU warned that schools often fail to successfully teach coursed like these.

“Though the Supreme Court has said that the Bible can be studied in public schools,” AU’s letter to the Board stated, “a long line of legal decisions demonstrates that public schools have been almost uniformly unsuccessful in offering Bible courses that comply with the constitutional requirement that they be taught from a secular, objective perspective.”

State officials said they tried to develop principles that are safe from legal challenges. They said these guidelines are an attempt to ensure that the Bible courses are academic and neutral, and that teachers are trained not to proselytize.

Education Board member Richard Ray, who voted in favor of the standards, said he still has doubts about whether the guidelines can shield schools from lawsuits.

“We have so much that needs to be done to elevate our kids in math and science, the focus of education should be right there,” Ray said.