A bill authorizing school districts to offer electives on the Bible passed the West Virginia state Senate last week, sending the measure to the governor for his signature. According to Charleston Gazette-Mailthe measure past room 30-3 despite the desire of many senators to remove references to the Bible in favor of a more inclusive language allowing for the study of a variety of world religions and their sacred texts. An amendment to this effect failed 19-14.
House Bill 4780 explains that the “purpose” of a Bible course, which could be offered to students in grades 9 and up, is to:
(1) To teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and stories that are prerequisites for understanding the development of American society and culture, including literature, art, music, manners, eloquence and public policy; and
(2) Familiarize students with, as appropriate:
(A) The content of the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament;
(B) The history of the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament;
(C) The literary style and structure of the Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament;
(D) The influence of the Hebrew Scriptures or the 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 courses offered to include more religious traditions eloquently explained why he voted against the final bill:
“As a student and teacher of the Bible, this is my guiding light. We should teach it everywhere in our churches and through our actions,” Baldwin said. “However, we should not involve the government in religious education. I also believe in the separation of church and state as set out in our Constitution. Therefore, I voted against the “Bible Bill,” which allows public schools to teach Bible courses.
Laws like House Bill 4780 are straight out of the playbook of Project Blitz, a coordinated effort to enact state-level laws promoting religion and specifically Christianity in public spaces, with particular emphasis on public schools. BJC has joined a coalition of lawyers opposed to the effort. As BJC executive director Amanda Tyler said, “Anything that would send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full-fledged American is extremely problematic.”
Education on religion in an academic way may be an appropriate subject for the public school curriculum, but indoctrination of students into a particular religious perspective is not. It may be possible to teach a class on the New Testament, for example, without crossing that line, but why not include other religions? After all, Americans already know more about Christianity than we do about other religions. The answer appears to lie in the goals of Project Blitz, which include promoting Christianity through state legislation.