Friday, October 23rd, 2015 02:52 pm
I just found out that my high school offers a new "bible literacy" class as an English elective this year. My mind is blown. I had no idea that such a thing existed in public schools, but apparently Texas passed a law allowing it in 2009.

I'm so torn about how I feel about this. I took a world religion class in college and I LOVED it, but it was a WORLD religion class and we studied all religions. And I am grateful for my childhood education from church about biblical stories because it's good for art history and just general well-rounded life knowledge. In fact, part of my fall away from the Baptist church came after I read the bible from cover to cover and discovered for myself exactly how insane it really is, so I'm glad I spent the time studying it. So I actually do think that educating young people about the bible is a good thing. But...

This class apparently just covers the old testament of the bible, and that's in an effort to be less Christian-specific. But it is taught by one of our uber-Baptist teachers, and when I asked my student about about the class, she said that everybody in there is a Christian, so it's basically just a big bible study class like you would have at church. This whole concept makes me SO uncomfortable! I do think that education about religion is important, but only if it includes ALL religions. If it is Christian-specific, it should be taught in a church, or a private school, not a public one. Separation of church and state is one of the things that I'm the most passionate about, so this one is really throwing me for a loop. I'm amazed that nobody has challenged this in court yet.

Wow. Welcome to the bible belt, I guess!
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 08:58 pm (UTC)
There was a Bible as Lit class offered during high school in my relatively liberal home town. I think it all depends on the teacher.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 09:24 pm (UTC)
Ugh. That presses every single one of my NOPE buttons.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC)

I took a world religion class in high school, and I loved it, but it covered many faiths, and was VERY heavy on Buddhism and eastern philosophy. A bible only class is a serious no to me.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 12:52 am (UTC)
So much this.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 09:25 pm (UTC)
I can understand studying the Bible as literature. You can't really understand European and American literature and art without understanding some of the stories. And some people don't know the significance of a serpent tempting you with an apple or the seven plagues of Egypt. But turning it into a bible study for Christian kids is taking it too far. It needs to be taught as stories, not history. That can be done objectively, so that it doesn't offend believers, but it doesn't seem to be the case here.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 09:28 pm (UTC)
Would it bug you if it was a Quran class taught by a devout Muslim with a class full of Muslim kids?

Although everyone remembers the "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" part, far too many seem to forget the "or prohibiting the free exercise therefore of". As long as there is no one saying that another religion cannot also have a class on their religious texts, it's well within the Constitution. Also, as a book, the Bible itself was hugely important to most of Western civilization.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 09:39 pm (UTC)
Yes - absolutely. It would bother me for ANY class that was based on *one* religion to be taught in a public school. And since you mentioned it, Texas only has this law in place to create a bible-based class - not one for the quran (or any other religion for that matter), so they are picking one religion and discriminating against the other. So yeah, that's a big deal to me.

And like I said, I agree with the fact that these stories are important, but I think they need to balanced with other religious viewpoints if they are going to be in a state school and paid for by my tax dollars.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC)
Okay, thank you for clarifying your position and explaining about the Texas law. I can understand having an indepth class on just the Old Testament for a semester - there is a lot in there and, although it would probably be more college level, you could have a really awesome Biblical Archeology type class. You could also cross reference the sayings in the New Testament with those in the Old Testament to understand the culture of the New Testament better. A third option, in my opinion, would be to cross reference the Catholic Bible versus the Protestant versus just the Torah and go through the history of each came to be as well as how each of the different religions interpret the various passages.

However, yeah, even I'd like at the least the option on the table for a Quran class or one on the Analects of Confucius. These books are too important to world history to just have a class on one very important book and not have the options for others.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 12:47 am (UTC)
Context does matter. It's not the same when it's the religion of the privileged majority, because it tends to reinforce the power structures and inequalities, particularly if it is being touted as an English class, when it's actually a religion class.

I do agree that the bible is important to much of Western Culture, though omitting study of the New Testament loses key parts of that.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 01:49 am (UTC)
In a public school? Yes, absolutely.

It's really not straightforward to teach the Bible class in a public school. Are you teaching it as literal truth and representing it as God's word, or are you teaching about its influence on Western civilization? Those are two different things. And there are numerous Supreme Court cases about the subtitles in schools and separation of church and state.

The biggest issues is whether or not said activity violates the Establishment clause:

Here's an excerpt explaining it from this page:

School districts may not endorse (or appear to be endorsing) religious activities in school sponsored activities. What that means in practice is that schools may not give special treatment to believers nor special prominence to activities that highlight religion. The Establishment Clause, in other words, is the Constitutional device that prevents public entities like schools from taking sides with the faith-based community.

A 1971 case called Lemon v. Kurtzman remains the leading case on the Establishment Clause and continues to guide the courts in deciding when a school district’s action violates the First Amendment. Courts ask a series of three questions in this order:

Does it have a secular (non-religious) purpose? That question was key in a 1985 potent “moment of silence or voluntary prayer” case. The U.S. Supreme Court sought to determine whether there was a secular purpose behind a state law passed by the Alabama legislature. Looking at the evidence, justices determined that the morning practice was a back-door way of persuading children to pray, and struck the law down. Therefore, at the outset of a case courts ask: Does the challenged activity have a religious (sectarian) purpose or are there sound secular reasons motivating school officials?

Does it advance or inhibit religion? Asking this question gives judges a sense of the neutrality of the practice. Something that advances religion would be a classic Establishment Clause violation. An example would be charging a general fee for a service but exempting religious clubs from the cost. Likewise, inhibiting religion is unconstitutional, and might occur if school districts do the opposite with their fee schedule.

Does it cause excessive entanglement with religion? In short, does the government involvement with a religious activity stretch so deep that it is indistinguishable from the religious nature itself. This question seeks to prevent schools and other activities from doing everything they can to support religion and stopping short of saying it out loud. Cooperation with religious causes and accommodation are both permissible, but entanglement occurs when the Constitution puts a halt to the relationship. An example might be an alternative high school where each week the primary speakers at a mandatory assembly are clergy or religious leaders who talk about morality. Entanglement might be an even greater problem if it is only one denomination that is being preferred.

In the 1984 Lynch v. Donnelly case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took the first two Lemon questions and said they amount to an “endorsement test.” Really, she said, courts should look for whether schools are in effect endorsing religion. That view has been influential. While O’Connor’s interpretation does not override Lemon, some courts have adopted her approach in deciding conflicts."

Edited 2015-10-24 01:57 am (UTC)
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 01:49 am (UTC)

So this is where this class potentially has a problem - because as Jen says, " is taught by one of our uber-Baptist teachers, and when I asked my student about about the class, she said that everybody in there is a Christian, so it's basically just a big bible study class like you would have at church. "

A church Bible study is not the same as an academic class on literature (this is purportedly an English elective).

This document, which is endorsed by various religious groups, has some good guidelines for staying on the correct side of constitutionality on teaching the Bible in public schools, ie, it should be academic, not devotional or a practice, educational not promotional, etc.

Edited 2015-10-24 01:57 am (UTC)
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 10:07 pm (UTC)
Up in Washington State, we're pretty liberal folk... (legalized recreational marijuana... early adopter of gay marriage... etc)... but at my public high school there was a credited Mormon seminary class. I thought that was a pretty silly thing for a public school to have, especially since there were no other religious classes offered except, like the one you took, a world religions class.

I understand why you are torn. The Bible is a very important piece of cultural literature AS well as an important religious text, but having any credited class that focuses on a single religion seems like scraping too seriously against the separation of church and state if you ask me. I fell out with Christianity as but a wee tyke kicked out of Sunday school for asking too many questions and not taking paper cutouts of Jesus seriously enough, so maybe I just don't understand. A world religions class makes so much sense and is SO important for people to learn! An old testament class that is really more like a bible study? That's sweet and all... but that should be a free-elective with no class credit unless there is a series of singular religion classes to take. (Not that I guess Texas classrooms would have a full Buddhism, Islam, or Taoism class..... like.. ever.... anywhere, right?)
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 10:31 pm (UTC)
I don't mind the idea of a Bible Lit elective, even though I don't believe in it. I think the problem is in the teaching - if it's teaching actual religion instead of just the stories, it's going too far. I was required to take Bib Lit in college (Methodist School) - I know we did the old testament, and I think maybe we did a couple parts of the new testament? I know we didn't do the whole thing. It wasn't terrible, though, since it really was just analyzing the stories. That said, I do agree that a World religions class would probably be far more appropriate.
Friday, October 23rd, 2015 11:54 pm (UTC)
Like Howlgirl I had a Bible as Lit class, but it was in college and an elective that fulfilled an English requirement.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 12:26 am (UTC)
I think classes like that are pretty common. This may help clarify the concept:
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 12:57 am (UTC)
Focusing only on the Old Testament really misses some important parts, and feels more like a way to use religion as a club against outsiders. (Lots of killing people who are not your religion and not much turning the other cheek.)
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC)

Eeek.  I agree with others re:  it's hugely dependent on how it is implemented/taught.  To me, it's about availability and choice.  If it's not a world religions survey class and no other religious texts are examined in other classes (I.e. lack of choice), it won't feel right.  Kinda like:  What if we teach only STEM classes and no humanities?

Saturday, October 24th, 2015 01:38 am (UTC)
If it's an English elective then it should be looking at English translations of the Bible as a work of literature. If it's teaching religion then it's not an English class and it should be taught somewhere else or be called something else. My two cents.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 01:41 am (UTC)
Here in Australia we only had laws passed this year that is removing any religious studies from public schools. I grew up as a catholic and went to private catholic schools where we learnt all different religions, not just the catholic christian teachings. It was great. I don't entirely agree with removing religious education from public schools. How are we to educate children of the different beliefs and not be ignorant and only be (mis)informed about religions from Facebook and the hate that gets spread. I don't know, I guess the main thing is to teach tolerance and acceptance of others.

I have a few friends (on-line) that are just so misinformed and they spread these hateful messages. Makes me sad.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
This! Thank you!
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 03:09 am (UTC)
That's so interesting to me, that your school decided to offer that class. Regional differences...around here that would NOT fly. Extracurricular, sure, we had those, but a credited class? Not so much. I went to a public college and we had some kind of Bible-focused course - but we also had a Religion minor and courses that focused on every other major world religion, too. I think a *world* religion elective for high schoolers is a great idea, but...yeah, the way the one at your school is panning out just feels vaguely unsettling to me.
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 08:20 am (UTC)
I agree with you. It seems dishonest to call it bible lit if it's not.

I think it's important to have a good basic school service, wherever you are, free from religion. When I was growing up, the closest school, within safe walking distance, was a Catholic one. The next one over would require cycling on a busy road or driving there before it opened because we had one car and my dad needed that to get to work. It was mostly OK because they knew they had a mixed population and didn't push it too much. It got somewhat uncomfortable around major events though. The few kids who didn't take their first communion were kind of dumped in a room to fend for themselves while the others got classes and a 'dress rehearsal' in a decidedly more festive feel. I actually sung in the choir for a bit because it got me out of extra maths class. Kids want to belong and it's unfair to set conditions so that they have to believe X to belong at school. Beliefs are personal.

I realise we have a special situation here (NL) because wayyyy back, the only way they could get a majority to pass child labour laws was to 'trade' it for a law allowing public funding for religious-based schools as long as they met academic standards. I've always side-eyed the hell out of that and especially now that some people are saying that Christian schools are fine, but we shouldn't fund Muslim schools...
Saturday, October 24th, 2015 04:30 pm (UTC)
For many reasons, it's important to know about religion and culture. But yeah, it's context that matters. It's such a sensitive subject on both sides, but the most prominent voices in favor of including religious teachings in public spaces are those who appear to be more concerned with doctrine.

In college (state university) I took an elective class based on the Bible. The professor did a fantastic job keeping it a secular, in-depth study of the literature. There was one student in the class who fervently tried to turn it into Bible study, and it annoyed everyone else.