As many Christian Right activists will tell you, it’s perfectly legal for a school district to offer an optional class teaching the Bible as literature. Given how much the book is referenced and the prevalence of biblical stories in our popular culture, that makes a lot of sense. If you knew nothing about the Garden of Eden, or how Job suffered, you’d miss out on a lot of allusions.
But a class like that has to be taught correctly. There’s a difference between treating the Bible as literature and teaching it as the Word of God. The former is okay and the latter isn’t, and there have been a number of times when Christians teaching the course have crossed the line.
That’s the fear at Milan High School in Tennessee. The course was approved for next year, and math teacher Larry Eddings was tapped to teach it. But when he posted about that on Facebook, he gave away the game, suggesting he was going to proselytize in the classroom:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling in the District to nip this in the bud before Eddings becomes a problem.
Eddings’ description of the upcoming class as a way for “God” to “ma[k]e a way for the word to go forth” unambiguously shows his intent to promote the religious aspects of the bible and his hope to indoctrinate young students. As a math teacher, Eddings also lacks the expertise for teaching a history or literature class.
“Public schools may not provide religious instruction,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to Milan Special School District Director of Schools Jonathan Criswell. “In the seminal Supreme Court case on this issue, McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the court held that that bible classes in public school were unconstitutional. Other federal courts have ruled that similar courses are unconstitutional.”
It gets worse. When Jayne did research on Eddings, he also found plenty of evidence of the teacher proselytizing while on the job, joining students in prayer and using his role as an advisor to preach. All of that is illegal.
Eddings has also traveled in order to proselytize (in his words, “pour into”) students in other school districts. On March 29–30, he stated that he was “fixing to head into Brentwood High School and pour into over 200 kids that show up for FCA! … Come on Holy Spirit — manifest yourself!!!” In another picture where he is with seven students, he states, “Got to pour into these young people at Brentwood High School today about disciple-making! What a blessing!”
There’s more where that came from. What’s clear is that Eddings has crossed the line many times, never been punished for it, and he has every intention of pushing his faith when he teaches a literature class that he has no business teaching.
Being a Christian shouldn’t be a prerequisite to teaching a Bible as Literature class, much less the only one.
FFRF is asking the District to look into each instance of Eddings overstepping his boundaries and they want assurances that administrators will put a stop to this for any staffer. They also fired warning shots in the letter:
If Milan High School includes a bible class this fall, regardless of the instructor, FFRF will request copies of the full curriculum and will take appropriate action if the class promotes religion in any way.
It’s up to Criswell, the District’s director, to do the right thing unless he wants to keep the door wide open to lawsuits.
As for Eddings, I guess we should all be grateful that he’s this incompetent. He’s in trouble because he bragged about his plans to preach to kids. If he had said nothing, he might have been able to get away with it.