Kentucky Puts Bible Classes in Public Schools

The separation of church and state has generally been successful at keeping the Bible out of public schools, but Kentucky legislators seem to have invented a deliberate way of getting around that obstacle. Lawmakers passed HB 128, aka the Bible Literacy Bill, to create a high school class that would give students an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the Bible.

The class will be offered to students as an elective, meaning students will have to register for it by their own volition. Since public school teachers cannot preach religion, the class is said to instead focus on “provid[ing] students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.”

Considering generations of students have successfully managed to understand contemporary society and culture without reading the Bible, it’s hard not to see this class as an attempt to get the book into public schools while staying in the realm of constitutionality.

Republican Governor Matt Bevin signed HB 128 into law. Incidentally, the governor previously signed a proclamation making 2017 the “Year of the Bible” in Kentucky. He also encouraged people to participate in a Bible-reading marathon across the state. Related acts like that would suggest that the governor wants to see the Bible in school beyond scholarly purposes.

Although other parts of the country have found ways to bring Christianity into the classroom, it’s usually as part of a world religion or comparative religion curriculum. In those contexts, students are exposed to Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. as well.

D.J. Johnson, a conservative state legislator who sponsored the bill, justified the legislation thusly: “Whether you believe that it’s the word of God or you think it’s complete fiction, you can’t deny the impact [the Bible]’s had on our culture.”

That’s a fair point, but does bringing the Bible into the public school classroom serve to solidify its cultural impact further? And will students who do view the Bible as a work of fiction be respected and encouraged to voice these thoughts in classroom discussions?

With 76 percent of Kentuckians identifying as Christian (and most of those people identifying as Evangelical) the Bible is already all over the place in other aspects of the state. Still, 22 percent of Kentuckians tell pollsters that their religious affiliation is “none,” meaning there is still a sizable minority of people who presumably wouldn’t want the Bible to become commonplace in their schools.

Presently, it’s not entirely clear what the course will focus on specifically since the curriculum has not been developed and the law itself is vague.

“The concern, though, is that you could have a curriculum that is constitutional and could be delivered in a manner that is not constitutional,” said Amber Duke, Communications Manager for the Kentucky ACLU.

That’s why organizations like the ACLU will be keeping an eye on how these classes work in reality. If they’re taught not as a cultural study, but as a Sunday School class of sorts, that would certainly open the door to lawsuits.

The bottom line is that you don’t see the state legislatures actively passing bills requiring schools to offer other kinds of classes.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

85 comments

RICKY SLOAN
RICKY S10 days ago

WOW

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers18 days ago

Thanks.

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Leanne K
Leanne K19 days ago

FFS what is with America and religion?
Theres not much separation of powers going on. No ballyhoo about the constitution like with your right to bear arms. Doesnt make much sense and theres no consistency.

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David F
David F20 days ago

https://www.prageru.com/courses/history/was-america-founded-be-secular

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Norman P
Norman P20 days ago

School is to teach reality, not fantasy. This is a form of molestation of children.

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Margaret G
Margaret G21 days ago

Gah! Bi below means "Bible class"

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Margaret G
Margaret G21 days ago

I took a Bi in college. Because the class treated the Bible as literature, the class was known as the "faith breaker".

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Donn M
Donn M21 days ago

Good for them.

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Sherri S
Sherri S21 days ago

As long as it is an elective, I think it is fine.

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Karen H
Karen H21 days ago

I wonder if the teacher will allow questions. Rule #1 in most organized religions seems to be "Thou shalt not question." I got in so much trouble just for having curiosity. Imagine a 6-year-old asking, "But how did all those animals fit into such a small ark? And didn't he lions eat the zebras?" and the teacher responding, "You just have to believe, because God can do anything." Uh huh.

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