A bill authorizing school districts to offer elective courses on the Bible passed the West Virginia State Senate last week, sending the measure to the governor for his signature. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the measure passed the chamber 30-3 despite the desire of many senators to remove references to the Bible in favor of more inclusive language that permitted the study of a variety of world religions and their sacred texts. An amendment to that effect failed 19-14.
House Bill 4780 explains that “the purpose” of a Bible course, which could be offered to students in 9th grade and above, is to:
(1) Teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding the development of American 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;
(D) The influence of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament on law, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values, and culture.
Stephen Baldwin, the author of the amendment that would have broadened the focus of the courses offered to include more religious traditions explained eloquently why he voted against the final bill:
“As a student and teacher of the Bible, it is my guiding light. We should teach it far and wide in our churches and through our actions,” Baldwin said. “However, we should not involve government in religious teaching. I also believe in the separation of church and state as laid out in our Constitution. Therefore, I voted against ‘the Bible bill,’ which allows public schools to teach courses in the Bible.”
Legislation like House Bill 4780 are right out of the playbook of Project Blitz, a coordinated effort to enact laws at the state level promoting religion and specifically Christianity in public spaces, with a particular focus on public schools. BJC joined a coalition of advocates opposing the effort. As BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler said, “Anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic.”
Teaching about religion in an academic manner can be appropriate subject matter for the public school curriculum, but indoctrinating students in a particular religious perspective is not. It may be possible to teach a class about the New Testament, for example, without crossing that line, but why not include other faiths? After all, Americans already know more about Christianity than we do about other religions. The answer seems to lie in the objectives of Project Blitz, which include the promotion of Christianity through state legislation.