Bible study in public schools sought in new state laws

Religious Studies Professor Mark Chancey discusses new bills on the table in Kentucky and Idaho that would pave the way for more study of the Bible in public schools.

By Jackie Zubrzycki

New bills on the table in Kentucky and Idaho would pave the path for more study of the Bible in public schools. 

In Idaho, the state's senate approved a bill that would "expressly permit" schools to use the Bible for academic study, the Associated Press reports. It specifies that the Bible can be used in studies of history, literature, and the arts.

The bill in Kentucky would allow schools to offer Bible Literacy classes as an elective passed the state senate's education committee earlier this month, the Courier-Journal reports.

According to Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University who has studied the use of the Bible in public schools, the bills won't likely permit anything that's not already technically permissible under state and federal law. 

A 1963 Supreme Court ruling affirmed that, while public schools cannot teach devotional practices, they can teach about the Bible "when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education." . . . 

Chancey said that while there is often academic value to studying the Bible, using the Bible effectively in public schools is easier said than done. In his study of courses, a number of schools were teaching explicitly Protestant values in the courses and made claims that are explicitly false. For instance, some assert that the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments.  <

As for the Kentucky bill, "you can see some good intentions in the bill, but implementation is more challenging than people realize," Chancey said. He said that teachers often are unprepared to teach the text in a nondevotional fashion, and that textbooks often used in Bible study courses often blur the line between devotional and academic. "The words matter, but what matters more is what happens in the classroom."

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