Bill would bring 'Bible literacy' to Ky schools

SMU Religious Studies Professor Mark Chancey talks about a bill introduced early this month in Kentucky that would create state regulations for public high schools wanting to offer elective social studies courses on Hebrew scriptures and the Bible.

By Kirsten Clark

If two Kentucky lawmakers get their way, the crucifixion of Jesus, the trials of Job and the Ten Commandments could land on high school syllabuses.

A bill introduced early this month, penned by Republican Reps. DJ Johnson of Owensboro and Wesley Morgan of Richmond, would create state regulations for public high schools wanting to offer elective social studies courses on Hebrew scriptures and the Bible. Doing so would familiarize students with biblical characters and narratives that are “prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture,” the bill reads.

Under the bill, all school districts would be expected to maintain “religious neutrality” and accommodate “diverse religious views.” . . .

Mark Chancey, a professor at Southern Methodist University who has studied the issues raised by Bible courses in public schools, said these courses can be valuable for students but can also prove problematic for educators. It's easy for even experienced and well-meaning teachers to "misstep" if proper training and curriculum are absent, he said.

"We want to take (the texts) seriously as sources from that time period without treating them uncritically as straightforward history," Chancey said. "That’s a delicate dance because the minute teachers begin treating the Bible as straightforward, completely unproblematic history, they’ve slipped into making theological claims.”

Lawmakers across the country have made a push to encourage the creation of Bible literacy courses in recent years. Since 2000, more than a third of states have tried to pass some sort of legislation supporting Bible courses, and six states have been successful, Chancey said. Last year's national Republican Party platform also called for more laws like these.

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