Constitutional Illiteracy: Texas Orders All Schools To Teach “Bible Literacy”

Texas140px-Family-bibleTexas legislators have continued their battle to add religious training in public schools. The state has a new law that requires that Texas public schools incorporate Bible literacy into the curriculum — though it offers no guidelines or instructions in how to do so.

Various schools are now offering special elective classes on the Bible while others are incorporating Biblical passages into regular classes. This is made all the more difficult, of course, by the separation of Church and State. The legislators did not order literacy on the Qu’ran or Torah.

A litigator might suspect that the lack of instructions is an effort to diminish any vulnerability to a challenge. The optional aspect of course certainly would help in that regard. I have long stated that schools could teach about theology and that such a course could be educational rather than sectarian. It would have to incorporate a wide array of religious texts as well as an understanding of agnostic and atheist views. It is clear that these legislators did not have such a course in mind.

The provision requires that the curriculum include “religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament, and its impact on history and literature.” The use of “include” will likely be used to suggest that other faiths could be represented in the classes, though the express reference to the Judeo-Christian text makes it mandatory as opposed to discretionary for other faiths.” It is more specific in this portion of the law:

(1) an elective course on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and its impact and an elective course on the New Testament and its impact; or
(2) an elective course that combines the courses described by Subdivision (1).
(b) The purpose of a course under this section is to:
(1) teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy; and
(2) familiarize students with, as applicable:
(A) the contents of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament;
(B) the history of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament;
(C) the literary style and structure of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament; and
(D) the influence of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture.
(c) A student may not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament and may use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament from that chosen by the board of trustees of the student’s school district or the student’s teacher.
(d) A course offered under this section shall follow applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views, traditions, and perspectives of students in their school district. A course under this section shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective. Nothing in this statute is intended to violate any provision of the United States Constitution or federal law, the Texas Constitution or any state law, or any rules or guidelines provided by the United States Department of Education or the Texas Education Agency.

It may not “intend[] to violate any provision of the United States Constitution or federal law” but civil libertarians would beg to differ on the ability of a state to require courses on the Bible.

The University of Texas has created a seminar to teach how to teach Biblical passages. They can go to various sites on how to teach Bible literacy.

Obviously, for civil libertarians, such programs smack of a certain Talibanization of education. It is certainly not as extreme. However, it is highly questionable from a constitutional standpoint to have a legislature order the teaching of a single religious text in an act of sectarian favoritism. It has schools struggling to satisfy the law and hopefully civil libertarian lawyers scrambling to challenge the law.

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48 thoughts on “Constitutional Illiteracy: Texas Orders All Schools To Teach “Bible Literacy””

  1. Pragmatist:

    All those are good references but what is your point? Federal money goes to Texas schools. If Texas wants to put the bible in their public school system let them get off the public dole. Then they can do what ever the good people of Texas want to do.

    You take the sovereign’s money you play the tune he wants.

  2. “Very nice turn of phrase Gilamesh for Gilgamesh, in keeping with a southwestern theme.”


    Sorry, Byron, but it was inadvertent hilarity.

  3. Anonymously Re: Texas is home to a divisive Southern Baptist
    “Divisive” is spin, ad hominem.
    Is your position, on Rent, “content based” or “content neutral”?

  4. Dan,

    Nobody likes a trouble maker.

    I do, of course. But you can’t go by me. I have a fetish for watching fundamentalists of any stripe spontaneously combust.

    And while your idea may be balanced, I’m thinking turning Chris on them in all his red nosed atheistic argumentative glory might not be fair. Funny, but not fair at all.

  5. rafflaw re: separation of church and state, in schools

    Can the state go into any business it wants to? Probaby not making pizza. Should we separate church and state by having the state get out of education?

    I can’t say that I advocate that, but all the same, why?

  6. What a dazzling display of ignorance. Many of these writers sound like college students and I would expect more.

    Can you say “document”? A real student will research documented history and locate such as:
    The First Charter of Virginia in 1606;
    The Mayflower Compact written in 1620 which was the predecessor to colonization efforts in the U.S.;
    The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut of 1639 ;
    The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was the first code of laws established in New England (1641);
    The U.S Declaration of Independence, 1776;
    the Constitution of the State of Texas;
    and the documentation goes on and on and on.

    Now you can look at any historical document you want to review and you are not likely to find any Texas history referring to any God other than from a Christian perspective. (the local indians didn’t create documents in the formative stages of Texas or the U.S.)

    Can you children say “History”? Can you say “social development”?

    Now we have truth in lending laws, truth in advertising, truth in SEC disclosure, etc., etc., etc. Why not have truth in education? Or does any subjective opinion outweigh the facts?

  7. The best evidence of the actual intent of the board will be a combination of the minutes of the meetings, transcripts of the hearings, testimony regarding communications among the members and the board’s history of previous efforts to introduce religion into the curriculum. I’m sure there is a mass of good stuff for enterprising lawyers.

  8. Gyges:

    if that is the case then it should be prohibited. Although you could have a civil war what with all of the different fundamentalist Church’s out there. It would be a wild west show, the church of the immaculate reception vs. the church of restrained flatulence vs the evangelical church of the turtle vs who knows what.

    There would be stasis as they all competed for their particular view of Christianity. So maybe that is a reason to give them what they want and watch them implode.

  9. Byron and Mespo,

    I’m sorry, but there is no way a school in the heart of Fundementalist Christian territory could get away with comparing the Bible to other historical texts.

    There is no way this is anything other than people working under the goal of “making America a Christian nation again.” Believe me, I sat in on strategy sessions on how we (the youth of several area churches and our parents) could get God back in the class room. This is straight out of that playbook.

  10. Mespo727272:

    Very nice turn of phrase Gilamesh for Gilgamesh, in keeping with a southwestern theme. If the lizard were a mesopotamian would it be a gilgamonster?

  11. Can they teach the bible if they do it as a history lesson or one of the books that one should read to understand why our civilization has evolved as it has?

    In that case cant they just teach the Torah and the Bible? Would it then be illegal if it was not used to support one religion or another? Can they say this is strictly an intellectual tool, we do not support any religion in our state?

    Also isn’t the the 1st amendment for the federal government to prevent the establishment of a national religion? They were afraid of what had happened in England and also at the beginning of the colonies there was much in-fighting due to various religious sects.

    I don’t agree with teaching the bible in public schools for the purpose of religious indoctrination but it is one of the books that should be read as part of an understanding of Western Civilization. I also think Karl Marx should be read for the same reason.

    If you say you cannot teach the bible cant the case be made that you cant teach other works that some people may disagree with?

  12. I have no problem whatsoever with it. I do wish they would teach the companion course too–Mythology of the World. I would start with the Mesopotamians and work my way forward. I think learning that the Flood Story cuts across many religions, and that Jonah sure sounds like Jason from Greek mythology and like Gilamesh from Mesopotamian mythology to most educated folks would be instructive. Jesus paralelling Horace from Egyptian mythology would really get the cows mooing in Dallas, too. Best be careful what you wish for, truth has a nasty way of seeping out from religious indoctrination. What did we say about that “plastic Jesus” again?

  13. This is breathtaking stuff. Replacing most of the states teachers and legislators with lawyers will be fun to watch…The Supreme Court arguments will be even more of a belly-buster to glare at and rupture a gut laughing ….

    Unfortunately, replacing all the teachers and legislators with lawyers gets you the same people just in different jobs so the cycle of stupidity and blatant ignorance perpetuates itself..

  14. whooliebacon,

    At least they’d be guaranteed jobs with Blackwater!

    Good stuff from everyone!! LOL and only too true.

  15. Rafflaw, Buddah.

    I also like:-

    “God bothering moralizing humbug”;
    “woman hating fetus fetishists”;
    “Hypochristians who oppose abortion but support the death penalty”.

  16. Buddah.

    “Theocratic fascists” is good too. Someone should compile a glossary of sarcastic terms to describe these people.

  17. This latest absurdity from Texas is amusing for at least three reasons. First, I suspect that few, if any, high school teachers are qualified to teach the impact of the bible on “law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.” Second, the presence of multiple translations in the classroom is guaranteed to create interpretive bedlam. Third, the statute’s stated intent to comply with statutory and constitutional limitations simply highlights its facial unconstitutionality.

  18. Rafflaw.

    May I suggest the terms “Christian Taliban” and “christofascist”.

  19. Swarthmore mom – Very good point! Talk about cognitive dissonance, though! How in the world you can separate Christianity , in general, from the Catholic Church, especially historically, is beyond me. Really, it is impossible. Historically, they were married like George and Gracie.

    Anonymously Yours – Jesus spoke the King’s English, huh? LOL! Maybe Texans should stick to BBQ and country music, both things they do very well. Presidents, not so much! 🙂

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