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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bible Lessons in the Bible Belt

Back in 2005, the school board in Odessa, Texas, voted to initiate new, elective Bible classes in their public schools. Now there is a group of parents who are suing the school district. One of the plaintiffs, Doug Hildebrand (an ordained Presbyterian deacon) says, "Religion is very important in my family and we are very involved in our religious community. But the public schools are no place for religious indoctrination that promotes certain beliefs that not all the kids in the school share."

The number of U.S. states offering Bible classes in the public schools has actually risen in the last 6 years from 29 to 37. Most of these classes have been very successful and have not encountered any opposition. So what's different about the Odessa case?

The difference is that in Odessa, the curriculum is designed to promote a Christian fundamentalist view of the Bible. They use the King James version of the Bible as the text. In reality, they're religion classes. Bible classes in other states are designed to study the historical and cultural importance of the Bible and students are taught to use critical thinking skills to decide religious matters for themselves. They're literature classes.

A lot of school districts have been gun-shy about teaching the Bible since a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said it was unconstitutional to make Bible devotionals and prayers mandatory in public schools. However, the same decision said that study of the Bible is constitutional when "taught objectively as part of a secular program."

It's an easy distinction to make. Teach, don't preach.

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