In Kentucky, Public-School Bible Courses Look More Like Sunday School

At Letcher County Central High in Whitesburg, Kentucky, students enrolled in the school’s elective Bible courses are instructed by one worksheet to “[d]o your best to build close relationships with other Christians, so that you may help one another through tough times.”

Another worksheet used in the same class asks students, “What are some promises in the Bible that God gives everyone who believes in him?”

Both curricular materials were sourced through “Teen Sunday School Place,” an online database of Sunday school lessons. Letcher County Bible course students are also encouraged to take part in religious activities, such as Bible Club.

This is flagrantly unconstitutional but, unfortunately, not surprising: While it is technically possible for a public school to offer a course focusing solely on the Bible that complies with the Constitution, it’s very difficult to actually do, even with the best of intentions. And many public schools that offer such courses purposefully use them as vehicles to proselytize students and involve them in religious activities.

It was for precisely these reasons that the ACLU of Kentucky opposed a bill last year that would formally authorize and encourage high schools to offer Bible course electives. Now that the measure has become law, the Kentucky Department of Education is developing educational standards and curricular guidance for the courses. Last week, we sent the Department a letter urging that any standards and guidance be clear and strictly hew to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

When it comes to public school classrooms, the Constitution is clear: Proselytizing is not allowed.

As we explained in our letter, any public school course addressing the Bible must be carefully designed to avoid proselytizing or any suggestion that a religious message is being promoted by the school. It must be taught from an academic, neutral perspective. Teachers must be properly trained in how to teach the Bible from a scholarly perspective, and they must understand the legal limitations of teaching the Bible or religion courses in public schools.

Furthermore, schools or the state should monitor these courses to ensure that they are properly implemented. Based on the responses to a public-records request sent by the ACLU of Kentucky to every school district in the state, however, many Kentucky schools that currently offer Bible courses simply flout these constitutional restrictions.

In McCracken County School District, for example, students taking the school’s Bible course are instructed to turn to the Book of Philippians to learn how to treat anxiety and asked to explain how the “virtues praised by the Book of Proverbs [are] important character traits for today.” In several school districts, students are asked to memorize and recite Bible verses. And, in Letcher County, Bible course students not only receive religious worksheets, but they also watch devotional and proselytizing films, such as “God’s Not Dead 2” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

Meanwhile, one Bible class teacher in Lewis County entirely abandoned her responsibility to prepare a neutral, secular course of study. Instead of waiting for standards and guidance from the Department of Education, she read the text of the new Bible course law out loud to her students and then asked what questions they would like to address based on it. The syllabus for the course appears merely to be a list of the students’ questions, which included: “Dinosaurs and mythical creatures, what does the Bible say about them?” and “The Ark Adventure in Kentucky –can we go see it?”

I’ll save this teacher some time on the latter question: No, public schools cannot take students on field trips to evangelical amusement parks and museums, even in conjunction with a Bible literacy course. (Call us if it’s not clear why, okay? Although the ACLU lawyer in God’s Not Dead 2 wears nicer suits than we do, I promise we’re not nearly as mean or scowling as he is.)

Religious indoctrination is, of course, expected at Sunday school. But when it comes to public school classrooms, the Constitution is clear: Proselytizing is not allowed. The Kentucky Department of Education must ensure that the lines are not blurred, or school districts may face litigation.

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Anonymous

You've got that right, what DO they teach kids today anyway? I know they sure did screw up on how to math, can't even coun't change at a store.

Steve Peister

I don't suppose this Kentucky school district has any plans to offer courses about the Koran, the Torah, the Upanishads or the Tripitakas. Let's sue until they do. This is favoring one religion over another and teaching it in the public schools. Clearly unconstitutional.

Anonymous

After reading this I now know that I do not side with the ACLU on likely anything. This entire article is based on what I consider blind devotion to "separation of church and state" with a truly one-sided point of view masked as "freedom". Freedom of fill in the blank that seems to erase the efforts of the first amendment. No field trips to religious amusement parks for a religiously themed course? Write an article about Six Flags for Physics Day. I presume the ACLU is so one sided you might as well call it flat stanley.

Dr. Timothy Leary

What do you expect from a bunch of shysters?

Anonymous

Thank you to the ACLU for reminding us of the laws re: Separation of Church and State. Our constitution is the law of the land and we must adhere to those laws. I, personally, opposed the implementation of the law re: bible classes in public schools. Too many saw this as a door to promote Christianity in our public schools.

Sam Osborne

So will the root of tradition of my faith also be taught in public school and in PE some moments of inactivity in hopes of being informed by the wisdom of awe?

And among people willing to consider themselves Christian all do not grant the Bible as being the one and only source of their faith. This theological view that does referenced as solo sola scriptura---Latin meaning i that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of a Christian. There are other Christians whose faith comes of wider enlightening human experience---their beliefs ranging from atop a three legged, four, legged and even a five legged stool: to wit, all the way from tradition, scripture and reason to the addition of experience and awe---and some may throw in the kitchen skin and big black holes.

Sam Osborne

This prompts me to wonder if all of the roots underlying my own faith will also be acceptably taught in public school and in physical education some moments of inactivity encouraging one to be informed by the wisdom of awe. Much of what has kept me fiddling away on the roof of my faith is as Tevye sang forth in Fiddler on the Rood: “TRADITION . . . TRADITION.”

Among people willing to consider themselves Christian all do not consider the Bible to be the one and only source of their faith---this single source theological view referenced as solo sola scriptura (in Latin meaning that Scripture alone is authoritative root of faith and practice of a Christian). There are other Christians whose faith comes of the experience of what they consider to be of wider human enlightenment: their expanded consideration variously ranging atop three, to four, or to five sources ranging through such things as oral and written views of both old and new, tradition, reasons, and personal experience that may consist of noting more than moments of wordless awe---and some may appear to have thrown in the kitchen sink and a big black hole or two.

If we are to throw the book at public school children, best we understand that it is going to come hit or miss and with a lot of questions that are not solely in one book or in one way. And consistently read or decline to read anything---letters to the editor, any section of a newspaper or anything else, and all are still left to deal with the fact that in one’s own personal way that our subscription to life on Earth runs out. And with no proof of proof accepted to be so by all, each of us is left to be wrong in our own special way.

To avoid butting heads and mangling bodies over conflicting ways best we adopt as a dictum on faith that Thomas Paine expressed in 1794 in forward to issue of his own testament in “Age of Reason.” To wit, “My opinions upon Religion: You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

Eternity

Thank you ACLU keep up the good work. I sure hope your find a way to stop this action. There is no time for religion in schools. There is also not enough money for music, art, computers. Who is paying for these bible classes. Teaching children the bible is child abuse.

Anonymous

The best way to keep public schools from engaging in religious indoctrination is to do away with public schools.

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