Usually, when we hear about problems with Bible classes in public schools, it’s because a high school teacher has crossed the line in the elective course by preaching to the students and acting like the Bible is the actual Word of God. Both would be illegal. It’s only okay to teach the book as a piece of literature.
But it’s a very different situation in West Virginia’s Mercer County Schools, where “elective” Bible courses have been taking place at the elementary and middle school level for the past 75 years. I put “elective” in quotation marks because it’s clear that students who don’t participate in the courses are treated like pariahs and bullied by their peers. We wrote about the program back in January, and things are only getting worse.
The Washington Post has more on these classes:
For decades, the county’s public schools have offered a weekly Bible class during the school day — 30 minutes at the elementary level and 45 minutes in middle school. Bible classes on school time are a rarity in public education, but here they are a long-standing tradition. The program is not mandatory, but almost every child in the district attends.
On paper, it seems like the only thing that might be a problem is taking time out of the school day to offer a Bible course. But as we learned from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, thanks to a mother and her child who attends kindergarten in the District, it’s obvious this curriculum crossed the line.
Their lawsuit makes very clear what’s wrong with the class:
- The District requires that teachers of this course have “a degree in Bible,” whatever that means.
- One lesson “includes images of Jesus being whipped and tortured, Jesus’ scarred body dragging a cross, Jesus being nailed to a cross, and Jesus ascending into heaven.” (That goes far beyond the mere teaching of the Jesus story in a secular way.)
- The goals of the curriculum included helping students develop a “positive attitude towards biblical literature,” “harmonizing the Matthew and Luke accounts of the birth of Jesus,” and “harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus.” Again, all are endorsements of the Bible.
- Students who opt out of the course are not necessarily receiving reasonable “alternative instruction” as the District requires.
- The curriculum promotes the false doctrine of Creationism, including the belief that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Here are some excerpts from the lessons:
“Moses was saying that when a dolphin had a little baby — it didn’t have a baby octopus. It had a baby dolphin that was like itself. When a shark had a baby — it didn’t have a baby eagle or a baby sea turtle — the shark had a baby shark that was like itself.”
“So picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”
“If all of the Israelites had chosen to follow the Ten Commandments, think of how safe and happy they would have been. They would never have been afraid someone would go into their tents and steal something. They would never have been afraid someone was lying about them. They would never have been afraid that anyone would hurt them — or someone they loved.”
(That last bit skipped the whole part about being put to death for working on the Sabbath.)
By no means is any of that legal.
The Post‘s Joe Heim has some baffling statements from people in the community trying to defend this program:
“My experience with it has been very positive. I’ve never known of anyone who has been pressured or felt ostracized,” said the Rev. David W. Dockery, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Princeton. “Any time God’s word can be proclaimed is beneficial and is a good thing.”
It’s not surprising that a pastor wouldn’t know about people being pressured or ostracized. It’s the same reason people like him often say they’re unaware of institutionalized racism or sexism in the workplace. They’re not the victims, so they become blind to the problems other people deal with. And his last statement justifies why this lawsuit has to be filed. Even Dockery thinks this course is about preaching God’s Word.
“I think it’s a great program mainly because it’s the only chance for some of these kids to even see the Bible,” said Brett Tolliver, 27. “More importantly, I don’t know who it harms. The kids aren’t forced to be there.”
I’m an atheist in Illinois and I get advertisements from church in my mailbox every other day. Does anyone really believe people in West Virginia would have no exposure to the Bible if not for this course? If the parents want to raise their kids as Christians, then problem solved. If they don’t, then there’s no reason for strangers to be concerned.
When Heim, the reporter, asked to sit in on one of the classes just to watch, the District refused his request.
Elizabeth Deal is one of the plaintiffs in the case and she describes what her daughter went through — contradicting the lies of the Christians quoted earlier.
Her daughter attended elementary school in nearby Bluefield, but Deal kept her out of the Bible class. Even though the class was optional, Deal said there weren’t any alternative lessons or activities for those who opted out. Her daughter was told to sit in the computer lab for that half-hour and read a book.
Bypassing the class left her vulnerable to bullying. Deal said other students told her daughter that she was going to hell. One day a student saw her daughter reading a “Harry Potter” novel and told her, according to the mother: “You don’t need to be reading this. You need to be reading the Bible.”
Deal eventually enrolled her daughter in a school in Virginia where this doesn’t happen. She has to pay an out-of-state fee, but it’s worth it given the alternative.
And the law appears to be on her side.
Charles C. Haynes, the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, doesn’t foresee the program surviving a court challenge in its current form.
“This is a loser for the school district,” Haynes said. “It’s difficult to satisfy the First Amendment in elementary school when it comes to the Bible. Students at that age really aren’t prepared to tell the difference between what is history and what is religious conviction.”
The judge who will decide whether this program continues is a President George H.W. Bush appointee, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll rule a particular way.
I keep going back to whether this program would be allowed, in its present form, if we were talking about any other religion, and it’s blatantly obvious the answer is no. Christians would be freaking out if the Qur’an were being taught in the same preachy way the Bible is right now.
(Thanks to Scott for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)