January 28, 2019 – Early this morning, Donald Trump was thinking about the Bible. Or, to be a bit more specific, he was watching Fox News, as usual, when he saw a state representative on fox and friends talk about his push for Bible classes in North Dakota public schools. Trump took to his favorite platform and tweeted:
“Many states are introducing Bible literacy classes, giving students the opportunity to study the Bible. Are you starting to turn around? Great!”
This state representative, Aaron McWilliams, criticized the courses, admitting: “There is a separation between church and state, but there is no separation between books and education. He then quoted (and misnamed) and stumbled upon describing a 1963 Supreme Court case that struck down devotional Bible reading in public schools, muddied the waters, and clarified one thing: that he does not understand really the law.
Bible lessons in public schools are a terrible idea, almost universally pushed by Christians. The FFRF follows the invoices of the Bible courses in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakotaand Virginia. No doubt that after this tweet, we will see more. These bills are part of the famous Christian nationalist legislative push dubbed “Project Blitz.” A sample invoice for these Bible courses appears in Project Blitz game book. The Blitz project is also behind the bills requiring the display of “In God We Trust”, including in public schools.
Trump’s relationship with the Bible is not complicated: he uses it as a political weapon. There may be a joke somewhere about “two Corinthians” walking into a bar, but the joke is Trump and his supporters’ knowledge of this book.
Like most Americans, he praises the merits of the book while knowing little about it. Almost half of all Americans think the Golden Rule appears in the Ten Commandments and more half cannot name the four Gospels.
And before blaming this ignorance on the rise of non-religious, atheist and agnostic Americans highest score on tests of religious knowledge. It is because the road to atheism is littered with Bibles that have been read cover to cover,” as I have noted.
If it were just a critical and unbiased teaching of the Bible, more students in our public school would be driven out of religion by these lessons.
But that would only happen if the prices were, unlike the TV channel where Trump heard about it, fair and balanced. Public schools can teach the Bible, but not preach the Bible. Public schools can educate on the Bible, but not indoctrinate in the religions that grew up around the Bible.
However, we know from experience that most schools fail when they try to teach these classes. In 2007, Texas passed a Bible Classroom Act and several polls Bible courses in Texas have shown how the courses are woefully inaccurate and unconstitutional, including that they “are patently and deeply bigoted, present religious views as fact, and implicitly or explicitly encourage students to hold those views”.
This is especially true for states that require schools to provide the Bible as an optional class. Small rural schools with fewer resources and access to a wider talent pool end up hiring teachers with a religious curriculum that quickly violates student rights. This is something we at the Freedom From Religion Foundation see too often.
It is very difficult to teach the Bible objectively and critically, as the First Amendment would require. For example, when the class comes to the four gospels that so few Americans can name, the only objective educated position is that Jesus was not born of a virgin, that this clear myth resulted from a mistranslation of the word Hebrew. almahmeaning “maiden”, not a virgin. This has been mistranslated into Greek as parthenos“virgin”, even though there is a different Hebrew word for virgin.
Students should be taught that Jesus was not quite the prince of peace that modern Christians claim, but a man who also claimed he came to tear families apart: “Don’t suppose I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, the enemies of a man shall be the members of his own house.’
Students should be taught that Lot, the only “just” man whom the biblical god deigned to save from Sodom and Gomorrah also gave his daughters to be gang-raped by a mob and that the Bible says daughters have more later got their father drunk and had sex with him so they could have his children.
Students should be taught that the Ten Commandments condone slavery. Twice. That they treat women like property. And that they promise to punish innocent children for the crimes of their parents and grandparents.
Students should learn that although the Bible says a lot about sex, slavery, rape, and genocide, it says nothing about condemning abortion. Although it contains thisjewel: “Blessed is he who seizes your children and crushes them against the rocks.”
These two difficulties – preventing teachers from imposing a personal religious agenda and presenting the class as scholarly – lead to inevitable lawsuits that can be disastrous for public schools. The FFRF has successfully litigated such a lawsuit in West Virginia for the past two years, where first graders learned that Adam and Eve could have slid down the backs of dinosaurs “like a waterslide.” In the FFRF’s challenge to religious instruction in Rhea County, Tennessee, the court said, “This is not a closed case. Since 1948, it has been very clear that the First Amendment does not permit the state to use its public school system to “assist any or all religious denominations or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines.”
Bible lessons in public schools – like all other attempts to inject religion into our government-run institutions – are divisive. What Christian parent would want their child to learn from the government that the virgin birth of Jesus is a myth? What non-Christian family would want their child to needlessly suffer the teasing, bullying, and alienation that comes with being labeled as “other” for missing those classes?
If parents want to teach the Bible to their children, they should. When the government steps in and starts dictating truth and religious myth, everyone is going to get pissed off. The best solution is to leave religion to the private sphere, where it belongs. Like the Supreme Court wrote in 1992, “The conception of the Constitution is that the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice entrusted to the private sphere, which is itself promised the freedom to pursue this mission.
Oh, and that biblical bill from North Dakota that Trump loved? This lack. Miserably. Going down after its second reading in a 5-42 vote.
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